Jerry Adler

Stories by Jerry Adler

  • WHAT A FLY KNOWS

    Sometimes, at the start of a lecture, Michael Dickinson will set a wineglass of vinegar or whisky down on the edge of his lectern. Dickinson, a professor of bioengineering at Caltech, is one of the world's experts on the flight mechanics of fruit flies. He has spent years fitting them with tiny harnesses, rotating them in a virtual-reality chamber, filming their wings with ultrahigh-speed cameras to catch them as they change direction in one fifth the duration of an eye blink. He has modeled their aerodynamics with an oversize robot fly whose wings flap mechanically in a fluid-filled tank. As he has begun to understand how they fly, his interest has turned to the related question of how they know where to go. How, with eyes so simple that they render the world in a matrix of just 25 by 25 pixels, can they find a wineglass in a classroom and land unerringly on its edge? To demonstrate the point, he holds up the glass at the end of his lecture, and there they are.Entomologists have...
  • FORGIVE AND LET LIVE

    Of all the extraordinary events in the life of John Paul II, few can compare with the 21 minutes he spent in a white-walled cell in Rome's Rebibia prison. Just after Christmas, 1983, the pope visited Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who 30 months earlier had shot him in St. Peter's Square. He presented Agca with a silver rosary, and something else as well: his forgiveness.It requires a Christ-like forbearance to pardon a would-be assassin, of course. But how many of us are ready to forgive an unfaithful lover, a scheming colleague or even the jerk who cut into the line at Starbucks? Persistent unforgiveness is part of human nature, but it appears to work to the detriment not just of our spiritual well-being but our physical health as well. The subject is one of the hottest fields of research in clinical psychology today, with more than 1, 200 published studies, up from just 58 as recently as 1997. It even has its own foundation--A Campaign for Forgiveness Research--which sponsored a...
  • LOYAL LEGACIES

    As the first person in his family to go to college, John Edwards of North Carolina didn't qualify for any legacies except a job in a textile mill--and he wasn't about to let voters forget it during his presidential campaign. One of the key elements of his College for Everyone plan was an end to legacy college admissions, the practice of favoring applicants whose parents attended the same school. "Nearly 50 years after [the end to legal segregation], we still have two school systems," Edwards proclaimed, "not divided by race but by income."Well, not exactly, at least not if you take legacy admissions as the criterion. Even at Notre Dame, generally considered to have the highest proportion of legacies of any university in the nation, they account for a little less than a quarter of students. Among the Ivies, anywhere from 10 to 15 percent is typical. But Edwards was on to something. In the same month that he gave his speech, Texas A&M, another well-known school famous for...
  • MIND READING

    Flat on my back, my eyes shrouded with LED goggles and my ears encased in headphones, I was trundled into the maw of an fMRI machine in a basement lab at the California Institute of Technology. The business end of an fMRI is a giant cylindrical magnet, similar to the MRI machines doctors use to diagnose tumors, but with the added ability to show changes in brain activity as they happen--hence the "f," which stands for "functional." In the magnet's powerful field, blood sloshing back and forth inside my head reveals its presence control room next door are Steven Quartz, a Caltech neuroscientist, and Colin Camerer, an economist, who are looking inside my brain to help understand some of the most vexing problems in postmodern society--irrational market bubbles, intractable Third World poverty and loser brothers-in-law who want to borrow $5,000 to open a franchised back-rub parlor. My brain was helping science explain why, despite centuries of progress in economic theory since Adam...
  • The Titans Of Trivia

    Unlike most artists, Rembrandt was known by his first name. His full name was Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn--Mental Floss, volume two.To the contemporary mind, adrift in the sea of random data unleashed by the Internet, that's the kind of fact you want from a magazine--the kind that snaps you awake in the middle of a plane ride with its staggering insignificance, the kind that by its total absence of context is guaranteed to stay lodged forever in your brain, impressing future dates, at least the ones who've never heard of Raphael or Michelangelo. It's the kind of fact on which four Duke University graduates decided in the summer of 2001 to found their fortune, in the form of a magazine whose slogan, "Feel smart again," preys on the all-too-common fear that someone, someday, is going to ask you to name the six wives of Henry VIII, or why it hurts to bite down on a piece of aluminum foil. "It was basically a bunch of kids sitting around watching 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire',"...
  • THE WAR ON STROKES

    Until the day he collapsed, John Kelly, 57--an exceptionally fit, nonsmoking, retired soldier--had never given a moment's thought to strokes. His cholesterol was low; he worked out six days a week; no one in his family had ever had one. One morning in January he sat down on the edge of his bed, bent over to tie his shoes, and, he says, "kept right on going" until he toppled to the floor. A blood clot had cut circulation to a large region on the right side of his brain, which instantly began shutting down; muscles on the left side of his body, with no input from the nerves, went limp. Inside his head, a biochemical riot had begun, which if unchecked would lead in a few hours to a massive cell die-off, leaving him an invalid at best. Like many stroke victims, Kelly seemed barely aware of what was happening to him: the right side of the brain controls muscles on the left side of the body. But the speech center is in the left hemisphere, so Kelly could still talk. He asked his wife to...
  • AND A MEAT LOAF TO GO

    By the hundreds, the cook-books roll off the presses--diet cookbooks and dessert cookbooks; cookbooks for the cuisines of Sri Lanka, South Africa and Canada; berry cookbooks, cherry cookbooks and a cookbook for people with the unusual problem of what to do with a lemon. And then there are racks full of cooking magazines, newspaper recipe columns and even a TV network for people who need to know how to fillet a sea bass at 3 a.m. That is, people like Karen and Ken Mullin, a young professional couple in Cleveland, who subscribe to three cooking magazines and have two fully equipped kitchens in their house. And all so that on their way home from work they can stop off at a supermarket and boldly choose... two portions of meat loaf and a container of mashed potatoes. "My job," says Karen, "is to pour the salad from the bag."A half-century after the first TV dinner was born, the food industry is approaching its long-sought dream of supplanting the unpaid labor of people like the Mullins...
  • TAKEOUT NATION

    By the scores, by the hundreds, the cookbooks roll off the presses, an estimated $433 million worth in 2002--diet cookbooks and dessert cookbooks; cookbooks for the cuisines of Sri Lanka, South Africa and Canada; berry cookbooks, cherry cookbooks and a cookbook for people with the unusual problem of what to do with a lemon. (Say, honey, how about some turnips with lemony bread crumbs?) And then there are racks full of cooking magazines, newspaper recipe columns and even a TV network for people who need to know how to fillet a sea bass at 3 a.m. That is, people like Karen and Ken Mullin, a young professional couple in Cleveland, who subscribe to three cooking magazines and have two fully equipped kitchens in their house. And all so that on their way home from work they can stop off at a supermarket to savor the miracle of fresh cilantro in Ohio in January, of jicama and chorizo and six kinds of dried chilies and boldly choose...... two portions of meat loaf and a container of mashed...
  • MAD COW: WHAT'S SAFE NOW?

    The recall notice from the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture duly stated that it was "voluntary" (all recalls are), and that it was Class II, low health risk. To the USDA, recall No. 067-2003, of "approximately 10,410 pounds of raw beef that may have been exposed to tissues containing the infectious agent that causes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)," involved a lesser threat than, say, recall No. 055-2003, on Oct. 28, of 26,000 cans of mislabeled chicken-and-pasta soup. There was nothing wrong with the soup, but the list of ingredients omitted the eggs in the pasta; the danger that someone with an allergy might eat it made for a Class I (high risk) recall. Let a noodle fall into a vat of soup, and America's food-safety net is there to catch it. But let a cow too sick to walk be slaughtered and shipped off to supermarkets--well, that's all perfectly legal under the watchful eye of the USDA.It will be some time before the entire five tons...
  • LEAVING A BAD TASTE

    Japan is a nation of beef lovers. Each year its citizens eat roughly a million metric tons of the stuff. So when Japanese scientists diagnosed a cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in September 2001, it was nothing less than a national crisis. Fortunately, the Japanese could count on that other great beef-eating nation to satisfy their appetite for red meat--any restaurant or food supplier that used American beef made sure to advertise the fact. Yoshinoya D&C Co., a restaurant chain that specializes in gyudon--bowls of stewed beef over rice--was sitting pretty: it imports 99 percent of its beef from the United States.Then, a few weeks ago, an American cow tested positive for BSE, triggering 48 countries, led by Japan, to ban the sale of American beef. About 36,000 metric tons of prime U.S. beef was left marooned on docks or aboard ships. Fast-food outlets throughout Asia were advertising Australian or New Zealand beef, while restaurants like Yoshinoya, which had bet...
  • Next: The Polypill Prescription

    Nick Wald's great brainstorm, which came to him a few years ago during his father-in-law's struggle with cardiovascular disease late in life, has the virtue of utter simplicity, and perhaps also its drawbacks. Watching as the old man downed the usual cocktail of heart medications, Wald, a professor of preventive medicine at the Wolfson Institute in London, realized that his father's trouble could have been averted, or at least minimized, if he'd begun his regimen years earlier. Of course, he didn't have symptoms then, but that's the point: half the population in Britain eventually develop serious heart disease. Rather than try to identify which half, why not just give the medication to everyone older than 55?Out of that hunch came the Polypill. It would consist of six relatively inexpensive, generic components: a statin (to lower cholesterol), three different drugs to lower blood pressure, aspirin (to interfere with blood-clot formation) and folic acid (to reduce levels of...
  • Next: The Polypill Prescription

    Nick Wald's great brainstorm, which came to him a few years ago during his father-in-law's struggle with cardiovascular disease late in life, has the virtue of utter simplicity, and perhaps also its drawbacks. As Wald, a professor of preventive medicine at the Wolfson Institute in London, has observed, "the difference between something being ridiculous and being obvious could be paper thin." Watching as the old man downed the usual cocktail of heart medications, Wald realized that his trouble could have been averted, or at least minimized, if he'd begun his regimen years earlier. Of course, he didn't have symptoms then, but that's the point: half the population in Britain eventually develop serious cardio-vascular disease. Rather than try to identify which half, why not just give the medication to everyone older than 55?Out of that hunch grew a research paper, audaciously titled "A Strategy to Reduce Cardiovascular Disease by More Than 80%," and a product name, which Wald and his...
  • Archeology: Unearthing Egypt's God Of, Er, 'Ferti

    He is politely called the god of "fertility," but the Egyptian deity Min had a lot more on his mind than agriculture. Invariably depicted with a large, erect penis, he was the god Pharaoh would pray to when he needed Egyptian women to conceive more soldiers for his Army, and his favorite offering was lettuce, considered a powerful aphrodisiac by the ancient Egyptians. Ninth-century Arab travelers who visited the temple to Min in Upper Egypt, built by Ramses II around 1300 B.C., came away wowed, describing it as larger than Karnak--but the site was long ago lost and buried by the modern city of Akhmim. A tantalizing trace turned up 15 years ago during an excavation for a post office, in the form of a giant statue of Ramses' Queen Meritamon--one of his several dozen wives, and also (as was customary with pharaohs) his daughter. But no further discoveries were made at the site.Until three months ago, that is, when authorities nabbed a grave robber who had broken through the wall of a...
  • The Hearts Left Behind

    What should you put in a letter to your spouse serving in Iraq? The conventional wisdom, says Janet Mooney of South Charleston, W.Va., is "to put a shiny face on everything we tell them, so the guys feel better--but I don't believe in that." Mooney's theory is that soldiers like her husband, Patrick, a West Virginia state trooper whose National Guard unit called him up in February, "want to feel like they're a part of what's happening here." So along with accounts of their daughter Caitlin's 10th birthday, Janet felt she had to inform Pat about the death of her father and of Pat's grandmother, about the clothes dryer's catching fire and the trip to Cape Cod on which she lost her wedding ring. That way, she says, her husband "feels like he's still included" in the family life he left so abruptly--and Mooney doesn't have to keep it to herself when the basement floods and she slips and breaks two ribs.Perhaps not every soldier's domestic life has been as eventful as Mooney's over the...
  • In The Grip Of A Deeper Pain

    They were invented to stop pain, the kind that travels up the spinal cord, and they're remarkably effective at it: the synthetic opioids developed since the 1970s can mute the agony of slipped disks, deteriorating joints, tooth decay and even terminal cancer. If that was all they did, then it wouldn't be much of a problem; most people acquire the drugs innocently enough by prescription and take them only as long as they need to, and even the risk of dependence may be worth running, if the alternative is lifelong pain. The problem with painkillers is they also work on existential pain, the kind that originates in the mind--such as might be experienced by a right-wing radio host who doesn't have Bill Clinton to torture anymore. Cindy McCain, the wife of the Arizona senator, took Vicodin, a common opioid, for back pain, but she found it also helped her get through the "Keating Five" investigation involving her husband. "The newspaper articles didn't hurt as much, and I didn't hurt as...
  • Up, Up And Away

    Steve Fossett was home last week in Beaver Creek, Colo.--not where you usually find him--keeping an eye on the wind. Before that, he was in Omarama, New Zealand, waiting for the right weather conditions to fly his specially outfitted high-altitude glider into the stratosphere, which would set a new height record for unpowered flight. Earlier in the month he was at a dusty desert airfield in Mojave, Calif., testing his speed-and-distance glider, in which he hopes to set several new records for speed and distance in November in Argentina. Before then, though, he is planning an attempt to set a new 24-hour distance sailing record in his 125-foot catamaran, considered by some the fastest sailboat in the world. That would be in the North Atlantic, sailing northeast from Cape Hatteras in the middle of the Gulf Stream. At any moment, the world's weather is generating unimaginably more power than all its power plants combined--and Steve Fossett wants just a few kilowatts of it to blow him...
  • The Allergy Epidemic

    We've Conquered Most Childhood Infections, But Extreme Reactions To Everyday Substances Pose A New Threat
  • The Lives Left Behind

    Before he went off to Afghanistan in late 2001, Phil Svitak, a sergeant from Fort Campbell, Ky., had a talk with his wife about what would happen if he were killed. An officer in dress greens would deliver the news in person, he said; there would be a chaplain, and because Svitak belonged to an elite unit, the "Night Stalkers," which provides air support to Special Ops forces, she could specify a friend to accompany them. I have a better idea, his wife, Laura, replied: just get yourself home alive. On a March morning last year, she was driving to work when the radio reported that a Chinook helicopter had crash-landed in Afghanistan while searching for a downed flier, and instantly her eyes filled with tears. All day long and into the evening, she kept to her routine, while the Army's elaborate bureaucracy for processing combat deaths clanked into motion half a world away. Her two young sons were asleep and she was in the bedroom when the doorbell rang at a quarter past 10. She...
  • The Day the Lights Went Out

    From scarce water and gasoline to the warmth of neighbors and the kindness of strangers, a portrait of life in the darkness
  • Building Arnold

    Body sculpting. Real estate. Movies. Politics. It really doesn't matter what the terrain: Arnold's fierce will to win has propelled him to the top. How he does it.
  • Families Ask Why

    Relatives of GIS in Iraq are speaking out about mounting casualties and long deployments
  • Arnold Reloaded

    In all the ways that count in Hollywood--money, basically--he's 10 times the star Ronald Reagan ever was, and he's 10 times more handsome than pro wrestler turned Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, so Arnold Schwarzenegger has to be considered a good bet to be the next governor of California. If he runs, that is; Schwarzenegger has said he won't make up his mind about the race until after the release of the long-awaited third installment in the "Terminator" series, "Rise of the Machines" which opens worldwide this month. "I'm not running," he told NEWSWEEK recently. "On the other hand, you don't want to do the same thing your whole life, either."If he does run, a great campaign ad will be crucial to overcoming voter resistance to a candidate who kills with his hands. NEWSWEEK recently visited Schwarzenegger's office, spoke with him on the Warner Brothers lot and put together this potential script, based entirely on real scenes and interviews:Voice-over: He was born in a small town in...
  • Arnold Reloaded

    In all the ways that count in Hollywood--money, basically--he's 10 times the star Ronald Reagan ever was, and he's 10 times more handsome than Jesse Ventura, so Arnold Schwarzenegger has to be considered a good bet to be the next governor of California. If he runs, that is--a question that might well have come up when he met with Karl Rove in the White House in April. Schwarzenegger says he won't make up his mind about the race until after the July 2 release of the long-awaited third installment in the "Terminator" series, "Rise of the Machines." "I'm not running," he told NEWSWEEK recently. "On the other hand, you don't want to do the same thing your whole life, either."If he does run, a great campaign ad will be crucial to overcoming voter resistance to a candidate who kills with his hands. NEWSWEEK recently visited Schwarzenegger's office, spoke with him on the Warner Brothers lot and put together this potential script, based entirely on real scenes and interviews:--Voice-over:...
  • Don't Think Twice--Or At All, For That Matter

    "Half the game is 90 percent mental," Yogi Berra once said, or something like that, and science is now getting around to putting his aphorism to the test. Researchers including Debbie Crews of Arizona State University and John Milton of the University of Chicago have been studying patterns of brain activation--not in baseball players but in golfers, who make better subjects because they don't move around as much and the electrodes stay stuck to their heads. Yogi might have been surprised by the researchers' conclusion, though: the better the golfer, the less brain activity he shows in the seconds before he makes his shot.Crews, a sports psychologist who studies putting--even the minimal agitation of a chip shot can upset her experimental apparatus--has found that a key difference between amateurs and pros lies in the left hemisphere. This is the seat of logic, analysis, verbal reasoning and the kinds of thoughts--Maybe I should just kind of squinch over a little more to the left-...
  • Books: Deciphering 'Code'

    Who is that beardless figure with the flowing red hair to the left of Jesus Christ in Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper? The textbook answer is Saint John, commonly depicted as the youngest and gentlest of the disciples. But in the best-selling thriller "The Da Vinci Code," author Dan Brown has another suggestion: the effeminate figure is Mary Magdalene, whose real relationship to Christ--his closest disciple and consort--has been suppressed by the church for nearly 2,000 years.More than a half century after their discovery in Egypt, the so-called Gnostic Gospels, in which Mary Magdalene figures prominently, have emerged into popular culture. Actually, they were there all along, in the songs of minstrels, in the Tarot and in Arthurian legend. The mother lode of conspiracy theory concerns the underground brotherhoods that kept these traditions alive down to the present--variously identified as the Knights Templar, the Illuminati, the Priory of Sion and even those Main...
  • Jessica's Liberation

    She was hiding in her bed just after midnight when the Special Ops team found her, in a room on the first floor of Saddam (naturally) Hospital in An Nasiriya. A soldier called her name, and without answering she peeked out from under the sheets. "Jessica Lynch," he called, "we're United States soldiers and we're here to protect you and take you home." The American approached the bed and took his helmet off and she looked up at him and replied: "I'm an American soldier, too."The operation had launched less than an hour before. As helicopters carrying the Special Ops forces land-ed outside the hospital, Predator drones circled overhead, sending pictures back to intelligence officers, who briefed commanders in the supersecure Joint Operations Center. One detachment of Marines made a diversionary attack on another part of the city, while the main force landed at the hospital and began searching for Lynch. When they found her, she "seemed to be in a fair amount of pain," officials later...
  • E. T., Phone Here

    For his entire career, astronomer Dan Werthimer has been immersed in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), watching the field grow from an eccentric hobby to a respectable scientific discipline, with government funding, conferences and grad students. What it still lacks, though, is a subject matter. "I've been looking for aliens for 28 years, and I haven't bagged one yet," he admits. Paradoxically, the field is awash in data--uncountable terabytes of it, virtually all of it meaningless, including four years' worth of random radio noise recorded by the 1,000-foot dish antenna at Arecibo, in Puerto Rico. Not even the world's fastest supercomputer could make sense of it all. So Werthimer, along with computer scientist David Anderson at Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory, enlisted a network of home and office desktop computers to sift through this vast electronic midden heap in search of one tiny artifact of civilization. More than 4 million people have lent their...
  • A Review To Die For?

    All Bernard Loiseau ever asked of himself as a chef was perfection, and for the past decade, that sufficed. The American journalist William Echikson once chronicled a year in Loiseau's monomaniacal quest for three Michelin stars for his restaurant in Burgundy: a 364-day (closed on Christmas) routine of inspecting plates for misplaced droplets of sauce, flower arrangements for droopy petals, napkins for loose threads. And he kept it up relentlessly, subsidizing his flagship Hotel de la Cote d'Or with three popular restaurants in Paris and a line of frozen foods, becoming along the way the first great French chef whose company was listed on the Paris Stock Exchange....
  • 'A Tragic Error'

    The calls began going out from Boston late on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 6, and continued well into the following morning. Somewhere in the six-state region covered by the New England Organ Bank a young person was dying, and the bureaucratic machinery devised to salvage life from death sprang into action. A coordinator entered the patient's vital statistics into the database maintained by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which generated a ranked list of possible recipients for the useful organs. Hearts and lungs begin to deteriorate after just four to six hours outside the body, so the patients' location was one of the key factors the UNOS program considered, along with medical condition, body size and blood type. A heart in Miami may be useless in Seattle. A child's heart cannot keep a full-grown man alive.But the computer program does not control for fate. The closest potential recipients turned out, for various reasons, to be a poor match for these particular...