R.I.P. Harry Crews

‘His best books combine comedy and moral outrage, which he combined and lighted on the page like diesel fuel. Their swaggering characters had outsize personalities; so did he. A gruff gallery of faces squint from his dust jackets, from the grizzled swamp sage on the back of his 1978 memoir “A Childhood” to the Mohawk haircut and pit-bull grimace he later favored.Mr. Crews wrote about the South’s white poor, a world he knew intimately. He was a tenant farmer’s son, and he felt the burden of his hard upbringing. In an Esquire magazine essay, later collected in a book called “Blood and Grits,” he wrote:

“I was so humiliated by the fact that I was from the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp in the worst hookworm and rickets part of Georgia I could not bear to think of it … Everything I had written had been out of a fear and loathing for what I was and who I was. It was all out of an effort to pretend otherwise.” ‘ (via NYTimes)

Controversial Pesticide Linked to Bee Collapse

“A controversial type of pesticide linked to declining global bee populations appears to scramble bees’ sense of direction, making it hard for them to find home. Starved of foragers and the pollen they carry, colonies produce fewer queens, and eventually collapse.

The phenomenon is described in two new studies published March 29 in Science. While they don’t conclusively explain global bee declines, which almost certainly involve a combination of factors, they establish neonicotinoids as a prime suspect.

“It’s pretty damning,” said David Goulson, a bee biologist at Scotland’s University of Stirling. “It’s clear evidence that they’re likely to be having an effect on both honeybees and bumblebees.” (via Wired)

Why the U.S. Penny Won’t Die Like Canada’s Just Did

“Poor little guy. Starting in the fall, Canada’s government will stop producing the lowly Canadian penny. The fact that pennies are expensive to make and are virtually worthless in today’s economy led them to fall victim to Ottawa’s budget cuts. The government says the measure will save around $11 million a year because each new penny costs 1.6 Canadian cents to produce. (One Canadian dollar is essentially equal to $1 in the U.S.) And a Canadian penny buys you only about 1/20th of what it could when it was introduced in 1858: A penny that could hypothetically buy a whole loaf of bread then would only buy a few bites of bread now.

Canadian consumers will be able to use the 1¢ coins indefinitely, but the government is encouraging businesses to start rounding to the nearest nickel. Lest people forget their arithmetic lessons, the government has put out a fact sheet on proper rounding techniques.

The Canadian move, which cites costs and inflation, follows the long-held logic trumpeted by many economists to get rid of 1¢ pieces in the U.S. Economist Stephen Dubner alone has nearly 20 entries on his Freakonomics blog begging for a U.S. penny death. “Can we please be next?” he wrote this morning after learning of Canada’s move.

A 2008 New Yorker article lays out the counterarguments that have prevented the penny’s seemingly inevitable extinction. There are objections to rounding, which one economist estimated could cost U.S. consumers as much as $1.5 billion over five years. Also, cutting out the penny may just put more reliance on the nickel—which is even more expensive to produce. In the U.S. loses 1.4¢ on each penny it makes and 6.2¢ on each nickel, according to Coin Update, an industry news source. Plus, plenty of Americans like pennies and their Honest Abe heritage. Those enthusiasts, along with industry lobbies, have rallied to support the coins when there has been movement to kill them.” (via Businessweek)

The New Frontlines

English Defence League march in Newcastle

Anti-fascists mobilise against English Defence League summit in Denmark: “Hundreds of demonstrators will confront the English Defence League tomorrow as the far-right group holds its first ever European summit in a bid to set up a Continent-wide alliance of anti-Islamic organisations.

Danish activists claimed that as many as 4,000 anti-fascist activists would make their way to the town of Aarhus, where the meeting is due to take place tomorrow afternoon, from the UK, Denmark and Germany.

Organisers said they would march one hour before an EDL rally in the town, in what they predicted would be the country’s largest anti-fascist mobilisation in 15 years.” (via Independent.UK)

TSA Waste

Image from the backscatter advanced imaging te...
Image from the backscatter advanced imaging technology (AIT) machine used by the TSA to screen passengers. This is what the remote TSA agent would see on their screen.

A reader wrote to see if my audience would be interested in seeing this well-done infographic about TSA waste. (Thanks, Tony)  If you think the tax dollars you have contributed to funding the TSA have made you safer, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

R.I.P. Adrienne Rich

Genre: Poetry Publisher: W. W. Norton & Compan...

Influential Feminist Poet Dies at 82: “Widely read, widely anthologized, widely interviewed and widely taught, Ms. Rich was for decades among the most influential writers of the feminist movement and one of the best-known American public intellectuals. She wrote two dozen volumes of poetry and more than a half-dozen of prose; the poetry alone has sold nearly 800,000 copies, according to W. W. Norton & Company, her publisher since the mid-1960s. Triply marginalized — as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew — Ms. Rich was concerned in her poetry, and in her many essays, with identity politics long before the term was coined.” (via NYTimes)

…How Google Stopped Being Google

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

“…Searches are geospecific and social network-dependent. All of which is fine and useful, but that’s not what made us love Google’s search engine. The more the search engine — and the web more generally — adjust themselves to us, the less they represent a collective idea of what is known….” (via The Atlantic).

Santorum and Opus Dei

St. Josemaría, founder of Opus Dei and the Pri...
Josemaría Escriva

“In January 2002, prominent Catholics from around the world gathered in Rome to celebrate the Spanish priest who founded one of the church’s most conservative and devout groups, Opus Dei.The event drew cardinals, bishops and other powerful Vatican officials. And among those invited to speak was a future presidential candidate: Rick Santorum, whose faith had become so essential to his politics that on federal documents he listed the trip, paid for by an Opus Dei foundation, as part of his official duties as a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. In a speech at the gathering, Santorum embraced the ideas of Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva, who had urged ordinary Catholics to bring an almost priestly devotion to Catholic principles in every realm of life and work.” (via The Washington Post, thanks to Perry).

Man Successfully Flies With Custom-Built Bird Wings

Nederlands: Scheveningen Circusplein. Kunstwer...
Nederlands: Scheveningen Circusplein. Kunstwerk "Icarus" (1999) van Jan Steen, detail. The Hague/The Netherlands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Using videogame controllers, an Android phone and custom-built wings, a Dutch engineer named Jarno Smeets has achieved birdlike flight. Smeets flew like an albatross, the bird that inspired his winged-man invention, on March 18 at a park in The Hague. “I have always dreamed about this. But after 8 months of hard work, research and testing it all payed off,” Smeets said on his YouTube page.” (via Wired.com).

To rule out god, first get to know him

This is a symbol intended to encompass polyamo...‘ “Give me the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man.” This Jesuit maxim epitomises how many of us perceive religion: as something that must be imprinted on young minds.

The new science of religion begs to differ. Children are born primed to see god at work all around them and don’t need to be indoctrinated to believe in him (see “The God issue: We are all born believers”).

This is just one of many recent findings that are challenging standard critiques of religious belief. As we learn more about religion’s biological roots, it is becoming clear that secularists are often tilting at windmills and need to rethink.

Another such finding is that belief in a god or gods does appear to encourage people to be nice to one another. Humans clearly don’t need religion to be moral, but it helps (see “The God issue: Religion is the key to civilisation”).

An interesting corollary of this is a deeply held mistrust of atheists (see “In atheists we distrust”). In fact, atheists might consider themselves as unrecognised victims of discrimination. In a recent opinion poll, Americans identified atheists as the group they would most disapprove of their children marrying and the one least likely to share their own vision of American society. Self-declared atheists are now the only sizeable minority group considered unelectable as president.

Such antipathy poses a dilemma for opponents of religion, and may explain why “militant atheism” has failed to make headway.’ (via New Scientist).


The new issue of New Scientist, of which the piece linked above is the foreword, is “the God issue,” and is worth your time if you ever think about religion and its impact, or grip, on us, whether you believe or not.

What to call the particle formerly known as Higgs?

One possible way the Higgs boson might be prod...“Earlier this month, organisers of a physics meeting requested that the Higgs boson – the still-hypothetical particle thought to endow other particles with mass – instead be referred to as either the BEH or scalar boson. The name change might seem esoteric, but it hints at a complex past – and trouble ahead over credit for the boson, if it is found.To understand, rewind about 50 years.” (via New Scientist).

Free Will: A Dangerous Idea?

Français : Montre gousset. Česky: Kapesní hodi...

“Recent much-publicized studies have claimed that scepticism about free will makes people behave less morally. “Disbelief in Free Will Increases Aggression and Reduces Helpfulness” as the title of one of hese papers puts it.

In his article (free pdf), British ‘independent researcher’ James B. Miles says that these experiments are flawed, because they didn’t distinguish between determinism (lack of free choice) and fatalism (lack of the ability to change events).

More fundamentally, though, Miles says that free will is used to justify things, such as punishment and poverty, that would otherwise be seen as scandalous…” (via Neuroskeptic).

Toynbee tiles


Large and colorful Toynbee tile found in downt...

“The Toynbee tiles (also called Toynbee plaques) are messages of mysterious origin found embedded in asphalt of streets in about two dozen major cities in the United States and four South American capitals.[1][2] Since the 1980s, several hundred tiles have been discovered. They are generally about the size of an American license plate, but sometimes considerably larger. They contain some variation on the following inscription: 


IN Kubrick’s 2001



Some of the more elaborate tiles also feature cryptic political statements or exhort readers to create and install similar tiles of their own.” (via Wikipedia)

Kubrick’s Cover Story: the double narratives and hidden meanings of ‘2001’

2001: A Space Odyssey

“This close examination of Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey theorises that Kubrick was working on this film with a “double narrative” structure. Thus, the imagery, set design and camera shots created a complex story all of their own that was separate, and sometimes in direct opposition to, the commonly accepted themes of the Arthur C. Clarke screenplay.

Ager’s work falls on just the right side of conspiracy-culture to be of interest to skeptics and conspiracist’s alike, and with this particular film analysis he is careful to avoid any “tin foil hat” readings of the text, which can be a major downfall of “critical” videos of this kind.

What Ager does posit is that Kubrick was working with a language of imagery that spoke directly to the subconscious and could be in contrast to the spoken words. This is more than a little believable when you take into account that Kubrick’s incredible talent and the huge amounts of time and effort that he spent on the various different aspects of his craft.” (via Dangerous Minds).

I haven’t watched this yet — waiting for a spare hour — but I am eager. I saw 2001 eleven times in the weeks after it came out in 1968 and several more times in the decades since. I think it was my introduction to having my mind blown, and it was also the occasion for my first work of film exegesis; I wrote a review about how profound it was for my high school newspaper, which I fantasized introduced my classmates to layers of meaning they otherwise would not have appreciated. Cocky me. I no longer recall what I said but perhaps I was responding to the unconscious narrative Ager posits here. I’ll see if it makes sense once I watch.

After-Birth Abortion: The pro-choice case for infanticide

‘Just when you thought the religious right couldn’t get any crazier, with its personhood amendments and its attacks on contraception, here comes the academic left with an even crazier idea: after-birth abortion.

No, I didn’t make this up. “Partial-birth abortion” is a term invented by pro-lifers. But “after-birth abortion” is a term invented by two philosophers, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva.’ (via Slate)

Strange Effects: The Mystifying History of Neutrino Experiments


“More often than not, neutrino experiments throughout history have turned up perplexing results. While most of these experiments didn’t get the high-profile attention that disputing Einstein provides, they’ve challenged scientists and helped them learn ever more about the natural world.

In this gallery, we take a look at some of the strangest historical neutrino results and the findings that still have scientists scratching their heads.” (via Wired.com)

There’s no sense in revising the psychiatrist’s bible

English: Pic of the DSM-IV English: My wife re...Forget the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – we need a new system based on brain physiology, says psychiatrist Nick Craddock.

You don’t believe we should update the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) used to classify mental illness. Why not?

“There are many reasons we should pause. The DSM checklist of symptoms is not fit for purpose: its categories don’t map onto the emerging science of emotion and cognition, yet the DSM-5 rewriters plan to pull in more areas in the new categories and over-medicalise the situation further. Obviously the people rewriting DSM are not stupid, but the project is the wrong thing now. There are lots of great findings coming out of biology, neuroscience and psychology. We will need a new diagnostic system based on these…” (via New Scientist)

The QWERTY Effect


English: QWERTY keyboard, on 2007 Sony Vaio la...

How Typing May Shape the Meaning of Words: ‘ “We know how a word is spoken can affect its meaning. So can how it’s typed,” said cognitive scientist Kyle Jasmin of the University of College London, co-author of a study about the so-called “QWERTY effect” in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. “As we filter language, hundreds or thousands of words, through our fingers, we seem to be connecting the meanings of the words with the physical way they’re typed on the keyboard.”

The effect may arise from the fact that letter combinations that fall on the right side of the keyboard tend to be easier to type than those on the left.

“If it’s easy, it tends to lend a positive meaning. If it’s harder, it can go the other way,” Jasmin said.’ (via Wired.com).

100,000 AD: Living in the deep future

“In the 21st century, it can feel as if the future has already arrived. But we’re only getting started. It’s fashionable to be pessimistic about our prospects, yet our species may very well endure for at least 100,000 years. So what’s in store for us?” (via New Scientist)

Training New Jedis in the Ways of the Force

MIAMI GARDENS - FEBRUARY 3: Children participa...‘To an outsider, it might seem like stage-fighting with battery-powered lightsabers, but to Mr. Michael, it is aspiring righteous warriors communing with the Force, that energy that gives the Jedi his power and binds the galaxy. So what if the place attracts, as Mr. Michael said, “a bunch of ‘Star Wars’ dorks.” ‘ (via NYTimes)

The Curator’s Code

image of a curator holding ancient coins

“While we have systems in place for literary citation, image attribution, and scientific reference, we don’t yet have a system that codifies the attribution of discovery in curation as a currency of the information economy, a system that treats discovery as the creative labor that it is.

This is what The Curator’s Code is – a system for honoring the creative and intellectual labor of information discovery by making attribution consistent and codified, the celebrated norm.

It’s an effort to make the rabbit hole open, fair, and ever-alluring.” (via curator’s ǝpoɔ)

Free Self-Replicating Machines are here

English: RepRap v.2 'Mendel' open-source FDM 3...

‘RepRap is a free desktop 3D printer capable of printing plastic objects. Since many parts of RepRap are made from plastic and RepRap can print those parts, RepRap is a self-replicating machine – one that anyone can build given time and materials. It also means that – if you’ve got a RepRap – you can print lots of useful stuff, and you can print another RepRap for a friend…

RepRap was the first of the low-cost 3D printers, and the RepRap Project started the open-source 3D printer revolution. It is described in the video on the right.’ (via RepRapWiki).

Does anyone have one of these and want to print me out one?

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

Buffalo in Meadow on Bell Ranch, 11/1972

“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.” is a grammatically valid sentence in the English language, used as an example of how homonyms and homophones can be used to create complicated linguistic constructs. It has been discussed in literature since 1972 when the sentence was used by William J. Rapaport, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo. It was posted to Linguist List by Rapaport in 1992. It was also featured in Steven Pinker’s 1994 book The Language Instinct. Read on to parse the sentence. (via Wikipedia).

R.I.P. Peter Bergman

The Firesign Theatre
Firesign Theatre

Satirist at Firesign Theater Dies at 72: “We started out as four friends, up all night, taking calls from people on bad acid trips and having the time of our lives,” Mr. Austin said in a phone interview Friday. “And that’s what we always were: four friends talking.”

Mr. Bergman and his friends recorded their first album, “Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him,” in 1968, followed the next year by “How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All?”

By 1970, their mordant humor and their mastery of stereophonic recording techniques had made them to their generation of 20-somethings what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are to today’s (if Mr. Colbert and Mr. Stewart had a weakness for literary wordplay, psychedelic references and jokes about the Counter-Reformation).

Their records employed sound effects in ways considered pioneering in audio comedy at the time. More generally, they were considered important forerunners of comedy shows like “Saturday Night Live.”

Ed Ward, writing in The New York Times in 1972, described the third Firesign album, “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers,” as “a mind-boggling sound drama” and a “work of almost Joycean complexity.”

“It’s almost impossible to summarize any Firesign album,” Mr. Ward wrote, because most of their albums were so filled with “intricate wordplay, stunning engineering and use of sound effects, breakneck pacing and, of course, a terribly complex story line.”

When the Library of Congress placed “Don’t Crush That Dwarf” in its National Recording Registry in 2005, The Los Angeles Times described Firesign Theater as “the Beatles of comedy.” (via NYTimes)

Mark Sunday’s Anniversary With a Moment of Silence

English: An aerial view of Minato, Japan, a we...

The Japanese people will be recovering from this catastrophe for years to come. For those of us outside of Japan, however, it’s all too easy to forget. That’s why, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami, GOOD will join the Japan Society of New York in observing a moment of silence led by Ambassador Shigeyuki Hiroki, Japan’s consul general in New York, at 2:46 p.m. this Sunday, March 11. We invite you to join us, wherever you are. At 2:46 p.m. in your time zone, take a minute to reflect on the incredible challenge facing Japan.” (via GOOD).

Fukushima and mental health

English: The after the

Maggie Koerth-Baker writes on Boing Boing:

“Yesterday, I got to host an eye-opening Q&A with Dan Edge, a PBS FRONTLINE producer who just finished a documentary about what happened at Fukushima during the first few days of the nuclear crisis there.

During that discussion, we touched a bit on the psychological impact all of this—the earthquake, the tsunami, the nuclear meltdowns—has had on the Japanese people. From studies of what’s happened to the people who lived near Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, we know that the fear and stress associated with these kinds of disasters can have complex and long-ranging health effects.

Today, Paul Voosen, a journalist with Greenwire, emailed me a story he wrote last year, during the first month of the Fukushima crisis, that delves into some of the science behind how disasters (and especially nuclear disasters) affect the human psyche. If you’ve already read it, it’s worth reading again.”

Why shrinks diagnose anti-authoritarians with mental illness

Rethink Mental Illness

“Bruce Levine, a clinical psychologist, has written on Mad in America about his colleagues’ propensity for diagnosing anti-authoritarians with mental illness. Levine says diagnoses like oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder and anxiety disorder are applied to people who question authority’s legitimacy by mental health practitioners who are, themselves, unconsciously deferential to authority.” (via Boing Boing)

Was Jesus intersex?

Jesus from the Deesis Mosaic

Theologian Susannah Cornwall of Manchester: “…[T]hose who met and interacted with Jesus seem to have had no doubt that he was a man – but, crucially, this is not the same as certainty that he was biologically male. Most of us will meet people on a regular basis who identify as completely unremarkable men or women, but who also have an interest condition. There will hardly ever be any need for us to know about the specificities of someone else’s chromosomes, gonads, hormone levels or sex cells – but if we did, we might be surprised by the number of people whose physical sex varies in some way from what we consider “normal”.

Some of those who argue that women should not be consecrated as priests or bishops do so because they believe that there is something intrinsic to maleness which makes males able to govern and lead in a way females cannot. Others who oppose women priests and bishops argue that a priest or bishop somehow participates in Jesus’ own priesthood, standing in Jesus’ place, and that since Jesus was male, a female cannot take on this role.

However, I believe that most people who argue in this way never make the distinction between sex and gender which I have outlined above.” (via Boing Boing)

How Not to Apologize

“Rush Limbaugh’s statement on Sandra Fluke was a textbook example of what not to say.” (via Slate).

Also: The Advertisers Sticking By Limbaugh

Advertisers really know their demographics. I would of course never listen to Rush Limbaugh and, with his latest offensive idiocy, was all set to stop patronizng his sponsors. But apparently they don’t want me as a customer either, because none of the advertisers on this list from The Atlantic Wire.have the least bit of appeal to me. The sole exception, and they say they do not really support Limbaugh, is Netflix.

The myth of the eight-hour sleep


“We often worry about lying awake in the middle of the night – but it could be good for you. A growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural.

In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month.

It took some time for their sleep to regulate but by the fourth week the subjects had settled into a very distinct sleeping pattern. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep.” (via BBC News).