A case of arrested development

中国日报网 2013-07-23 11:05



A case of arrested development

Reader question:

Please explain “arrested development” in this headline: Wizards show case of arrested development (Washington Times, January 17, 2012).

My comments:

To arrest is to stop or slow someone/something in motion, e.g. a policemen arrests a thief running in the street.

“Arrested development”, on the other hand, is a medical term, describing the situation where youngsters have stopped or slowed down considerably in physical growth – in stature, for example.

Here, however, “Wizards show case of arrested development” is just another lament from the media about the Washington Wizards, a professional basketball team in the NBA.

The lament being: The Wizards are not improving as a team. It is as though they were a team of youngsters who suddenly stopped growing, as in the medical case of arrested development.

This is a metaphor, of course. Physically, there’s been nothing wrong with the team, normal fatigue and occasional injuries notwithstanding. Performance wise, however, the team’s been nothing but disappointment. The team has been among perennial bottom dwellers in the Eastern Conference, and if you’re a Wizards fan, you will wonder why the team’s performance does not improve as the players grow older and hopefully wiser and more experienced.

To prove the point or, in the manner of speaking, the case, I took the trouble of taking a look at their win-loss records in the past few years. In 2012, they won 29 games and lost 53 of them, which record is good for 12th place among 15 teams in the Eastern Conference.

In 2011, a shortened season due to labor disputes between players and team owners, they were 20-46, good (or not good at all, I shall say) for 14th place.

In 2010, they were 23-59, finishing 13th.

A year earlier, they were 26-56, finishing 15th.

The long and short of it is the Wizards are not improving as time passes by. They are stunted in growth, so to speak, and keep coming short of fan expectations.

Alright, here are other cases of arrested development in the metaphorical sense:

1. The problem with A Wedding in December, Anita Shreve’s Big Chill-like novel, jumps out at readers from the start: Would seven 45-year-olds drop their lives - after next-to-no contact for nearly 30 years - to attend a wedding of mutual high school friends?

Would a world-renowned concert pianist be able to abandon his performance schedule to fly to the other side of the world for people with whom he's had virtually no relationship with for decades? Would he even want to?

Such is the implausibility problem underlying what is otherwise a pleasant and compelling-enough story.

Seven former high school classmates meet up - after almost three decades apart - for the wedding of Bridget and Bill, two of the group who were high school sweethearts separated at youth and are back together. The wedding serves as the catalyst for the reunion, made more poignant because Bridget has breast cancer.

Underlying the wedding is the shared loss of the charming and popular Stephen, a friend of the group who died as a teenager in a tragic drowning - the vehicle Shreve, unfortunately, depends upon as her characters’ motivation to reunite.

The ceremony takes place in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts. Among the players:

• Nora hosts everyone at her bed-and-breakfast, former home to her and her deceased poet husband.

• Agnes is a single English teacher who pines for her absent lover, the group's former English teacher. This is a secret she spills to the crowd after drinking too much at the wedding reception.

• Harrison is still in love with Nora, although Stephen was Nora's love - and Harrison’s best friend - back in high school.

• Jerry’s a jerk and a businessman.

• Rob has come out since graduating.

With the exception of Rob, the friends all harbor unresolved regrets, disappointments and not a little arrested-development dynamics.

- An unbelievable ‘Wedding’, Rocky Mountain News, October 21, 2005.

2. President Barack Obama is showing signs of arrested development. Raised by a doting, single mother and being an only child, the indicators are predictable. He’s spoiled. As long as he gets his way, he acts like an adult. But when confronted by equals, and stopped in mid-sentence he resorts to temper tantrums.

I don’t doubt he’s presently surrounded by maternal figures as advisers. He’s a child who always gets his way! Any mother can sympathize with that. But the charade is over. There is no substance. His agenda is hidden, because he has no agenda. There is no substance, only form. Academic demagoguery has replaced leadership in the White House.

We should review the fact that he spent only 18 months as a senator before running for the presidency. Possibly, he never expected to win. Nobody knew who, or what, he was. We all cheered the fact that a minority could become president, and hoped it would invigorate a new era for America. He exploited that dream for ambition.

The recent debt-ceiling discussion ended up with him declaring, “Don’t call my bluff!” Then he walked out in a huff. Next time, he’ll threaten to hold his breath.

Will someone please tell President Obama, “It is not all about you!”

We need a real leader for our nation now, a person with proven credentials and determination to stabilize our collapsing economy and collapsing culture. I suspect the good ol’ days are not coming back for a very long time.

- Barack Obama: A case of arrested development, By Michael Donohue, Missoulian.com, July 19, 2011.

3. On July 10, 2010, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe flew by the asteroid 21 Lutetia, which at the time was the largest asteroid ever to have been visited by a spacecraft. The fly-by occurred 282 million miles from Earth; close-up images taken by the probe revealed cracks and craters running across Lutetia’s surface, evidence of the asteroid’s long and battered history.

Now an international team of researchers from France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States has analyzed Lutetia’s surface images, and found that underneath its cold and cracked exterior, the asteroid may in fact have once harbored a molten-hot, metallic core. The findings suggest that Lutetia, despite billions of years of impacts, may have retained its original structure – a preserved remnant of the very earliest days of the solar system.

The results are published in a series of three papers in the journals Science and Planetary Space Science (PSS).

Benjamin Weiss, an associate professor of planetary sciences in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, says a melted core within Lutetia may exemplify a “hidden diversity” within the greater asteroid belt.

“There might be many bodies that have cores and interesting interiors that we never noticed, because they’re covered by unmelted surfaces,” says Weiss, who is a co-author on both Science papers and lead author for the paper in PSS. “The asteroid belt may be more interesting than it seems on the surface.”

Most asteroids careening through the asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, are scrambled versions of their former selves: essentially mashed-up masses of rock and metal that have collided and cooled over billions of years. These rocky conglomerations are relatively small and light, with voids and cracks in their interiors that make them very porous. It had been thought that the vast majority of these bodies never melted to form dense, metallic cores, but instead are just primordial piles of space rocks and dust.

In contrast, the Rosetta team — led by Holger Sierks of the Max-Planck Institute for Solar System Research and Martin Pätzold of the Rheinisches Institut für Umweltforschung, both in Germany — found that Lutetia is extremely dense. The team drew up a model of the asteroid’s shape, based on images taken by the Rosetta probe. The researchers then calculated Lutetia’s volume, mass and finally its density, which they found, in collaboration with the MIT team, to be greater than most meteorite samples measured on Earth.

The asteroid’s density would make sense if it were completely solid, free of voids or cracks. However, Rosetta researchers measured the asteroid’s surface craters and identified huge fractures throughout, suggesting the asteroid is relatively porous, a finding that didn’t quite square with the team’s density measurements — after all, the more porous an object, the less dense it should be.

Weiss and his colleagues, including MIT professor Richard Binzel and former MIT professor Linda T. Elkins-Tanton, now head of the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, offered a likely explanation for the discrepancy: Perhaps the space rock contains a dense metallic core, with a once melted interior underneath its fractured crust.

The direct observations from Lutetia may provide evidence for a theory developed last year by Weiss, Elkins-Tanton and MIT’s Maria Zuber. The team studied samples of chondrites, meteorites on Earth that have remained unchanged since their early formation. They found samples from the meteorite Allende that were strongly magnetized, and theorized that such magnetization most likely occurred in an asteroid with a melted, metallic core. The theory was seen as a big shift from the traditional picture of most asteroids as primordial, unmelted objects.

If a metallic core does indeed exist, Lutetia would be the first asteroid known to be partially differentiated: having a melted interior overlain by progressively cooler layers. The asteroid would also represent a snapshot of early planetary development. As the solar system began to take form 4.5 billion years ago, planets formed from collisions first of dust, then of larger chunks of rock. Numerous chunks remained relatively small, cooling quickly to form asteroids, while others grew with each collision, eventually reaching the size of planets. These large bodies generated an immense amount of heat – but as a new planet melted from the inside, it cooled from the outside, forming a crust around a molten core.

According to Weiss, Lutetia is a case of arrested development. The asteroid may have reached a size large enough to develop and retain a melting core, and then simply avoided the larger collisions that accelerated planet formation.

- Battered asteroid may have warm core, Web.MIT.Edu, October 28, 2011.

Related stories:

Political horse trading

Joined at the hip?

Jack of all trades?

Penny wise, pound foolish?

Let nature take its course

Pick their poison?

Go to Zhang Xin's column


About the author:

Zhang Xin(张欣) has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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