R.I.P. Francisco Varela (1946-2001) . John Brockman describes him on The Edge:

‘Francisco, an experimental and theoretical biologist, studied what he termed “emergent selves” or “virtual identities.” His was an immanent view of reality, based on metaphors derived from self-organization and Buddhist-inspired epistemology rather than on those derived from engineering and information science. He presented a challenge to the traditional AI view that the world exists independently of the organism, whose task is to make an accurate model of that world — to “consult” before acting. His nonrepresentationalist world — or perhaps “world-as-experienced” — has no independent existence but is itself a product of interactions between organisms and environment. He first became known for his theory of autopoiesis (“self production”), which is concerned with the active self-maintenance of living systems whose identities remain constant while their components continually change. Varela is tough to categorize. He was a neuroscientist who became an immunologist. He was well informed about cognitive science and was a radical critic of it, because he was a believer in “emergence” — not the vitalist idea promulgated in the 1920s (that of a magical property that emerges inexplicably from lower mechanical operations) but the idea that the whole appears as a result of the dynamics of its component parts. He thought that classic computationalist cognitive science is too simplemindedly mechanistic. He was knowledgeable and romantic at the same time.’

Bush Speak: An Interview with Mark Crispin Miller, the author of The Bush Dyslexicon: The

Saying of President Dubya
. ‘(Miller) sees more in these verbal tics and grammatical bungles than just plain idiocy. In fact, the professor of media ecology at New

York University credits Bush for speaking a language television producers and talk show hosts can understand: one of superfice and shallowness, of one-liners and aw-

shucks answers. As Miller argues in his introduction:

“[T]his book is meant to shed some light on the propaganda of our time. The Dyslexicon attempts to give the lie to that enormous wave of

propaganda — a joint production of the GOP and the major media — whereby George W. Bush was forced on us as President, then, after his inauguration, hailed nearly

universally for his amazing charm, his democratic ease, his rare ability to be all things to all Americans, and so on. Our experience of this transparent coup has been

disorienting from the start.” ‘AlterNet

OxyCon Game: Anatomy of a Media-made Drug Scare. The author contends that the sensationalistic media coverage is untrue and irredeemably besmirches the image of a drug acknowledged as a major breakthrough in the treatment of debilitating pain. He says that “experts” deny that abuse of the drug outpaces growth in legitimate prescribed usage and that its illegal use is only a problem where “the usual street drugs” are not available. Well, I’m sorry, but this is typical muckraking journalism, and it’s confused and inaccurate. As someone observing from the front lines of the treatment of substance abuse, I can assure you how prevalent abuse of OxyContin has become in the past eighteen to twenty four months… among prescribed users who are better at scamming doctors to get it than doctors are in recognizing a con or saying no when they recognize it. The “dual diagnosis” patients we see with substance abuse and personality disorders or mood disorders, to listen to them, have the worst migraine headaches imaginable, or the most persistent lower back pain after their wokplace injury or motor vehicle accident, or insist they need their Oxy for dental pain or the dull, subjective ache of fibromyalgia, with a frequency far in excess of epidemiological data on the co-occurrence of these conditions.

Ridiculing concern by likening it to the ’30’s film Reefer Madness, as is done here, is the worst sort of ignorant yellow journalism.While War on Drugs hysteria may fuel publicity about the latest drug menace, that doesn’t mean there is not an epidemic of abuse. And you can expect one any time there’s a major therapeutic advance in pain management. AlterNet

So What Else is New? Bush brother blamed for unfair election: ‘Thousands of black electors in Florida were disenfranchised in last November’s election by an electoral system tainted by “injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency” a leaked report by the US civil rights commission says.

It accuses Governor Jeb Bush, the president’s brother, and his secretary of state, Katherine Harris, of “gross dereliction” of duty, saying they “chose to ignore mounting evidence” of the problems. ‘ The Guardian

Does the Constitution protect the right to talk

about how to foil copyright protection?
Princeton computer scientist Edward Felton broke the music industry’s SDMI copy protection as a mathematical exercise but was scared off from publishing his results by threat of a lawsuit from the music industry. Nevertheless, bootleg copies of his, quite technical, paper are all over the ‘net. Now, with Electronic Frontier Foundation legal assistance, he’s suing the RIAA and the U.S. Justice Dept. for the right to publish, hoping to invalidate the “anti-circumvention” clause of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Salon

Archaeologists Home In on Body Ornament Origins. The origins of human self-adornment have been shrouded in a veil of mystery. A new report finds archaeological evidence of widespread, persistent and standardized use of body ornamentation more than 40,000 years ago, emerging more or less simultaneously in Europe, Asia and Africa. It is suggested that, with burgeoning human numbers, the frequency of encounters with outsiders grew sufficiently to make it useful “to convey to strangers aspects of social identity, such as group

membership, gender, age and marital status.” Scientific American

“My hypothesis is that the genome is an internal expression of the ecosystem in which it lives.” Philosophical tract questions wisdom of genetic modification: ‘The relationship between the genetic material of living things and the ecosystems in which they live is

deep and changeable, says Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental

Research in Takoma Park, Maryland. In an essay that is being embraced as an important philosophical

advance by some environmentalists, Makhijani argues that tinkering with genes may upset the

environment in much more complicated and far-reaching ways than have been considered.’ BioMedNet

Toward True Security, a report issued jointly by the Federation of American Scientists, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council, blasts the National Missile Defense intentions of the Shrub administration as destabilizing, rather than enhancing, nuclear security. Here’s the Washington Post‘s coverage of the report. To claim that the most immediate nuclear threat is from so-called “rogue states” is preposterous. The twin threats of further nuclear proliferation and an accidental Russian attack from a failure of its aging command-and-control and early-warning systems are far more dangerous. Even apart from NMD, the U.S.’s maintenance of a large nuclear arsenal on hairtrigger alert is an outmoded cold war posture that could lead to accidental nuclear war in the face of such a threat. The FAS report was written by a 16-expert panel including former weapons designers and disarmament negotiators. In addition to giving up on NMD, they suggest a nuclear posture declaring our weapons to be deterrent only; decrying rapid-launch options, scrapping pre-set targeting plans, unilaterally reducing the size of our arsenal and retiring all tactical (battlefield) nuclear weapons, “dismantling them in a transparent manner.” We should commit not to resume nuclear testing and affirm a commitment to eventual disarmament. We should convince Russia to follow suit.

Sorry to be so shrill. I cover disarmament issues so often in FmH, as passé as they may seem, because of the extent to which I think we have to awaken from a deluded dream if we do not recognize the threat under which we still live and the insanity of the current administration’s enhancement of our jeopardy. Sorry, it’s abstract, but think about it.

Baby’s sex not linked to shape of mother: “The widely held belief that a woman’s body shape can influence the sex

of her children has been undermined by a new study.

Folklore has it that a curvy “hour glass” body-shape is supposed to

produce girls and a more androgynous shape, boys. Evolutionary

biologists thought this was because a a less curvy body is supposed to have

higher levels of the male sex hormone testosterone, which favours more

male conceptions.” Telegraph

Landmark Ruling Secures Native Land Rights: “On May 12th, 2001, the High Court in Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, issued an extraordinary ruling that could have

sweeping consequences for indigenous land rights. After two years of litigation, the court upheld the customary rights of the Iban village

Rumah Nor, finding the Borneo Paper and Pulp company did not have the right to destroy Rumah Nor’s rainforest.” [via Utne Reader]

Least Common Denominator Dep’t.: Moviegoers confused: ‘Preview audiences who’ve watched

Steven Spielberg’s new movie, A.I., are having some problems with the

film’s title.

The initials “A.I.” stand for “artificial intelligence,” but exit polls suggest

many people think the title of the movie is “A-1” — just like the steak sauce.

New York gossip reporter Baird Jones claims the name confusion is so

serious that studio executives are considering putting the words “artificial

intelligence” in parenthesis after the title — a prospect that Spielberg is

furious over.’ [I could understand being confused going into the film, but coming out??!!]

The Intelligence Online news service’s list of “sites chosen by our journalists”: a rich set of links to intelligence services, foreign government sites, sites about business intelligence, computer security, infowar, terrorism, nonproliferation, money laundering, Muslim fundamentalism, etc.

A reader asks:

“I’ve been reading fmh for over a year now (I think; it’s so hard to keep “track), and love it. One thing has puzzled me, though: why do you call it “‘blinking’ and not ‘linking’?”

My reply:

I explained that once way back at the beginning. Just as a ‘blog’ is a ‘weblog’, a ‘blink’ is a ‘weblink’ . A friend suggested that there ought to be a special term for it and I ran with it. To take the wordplay further, just as ‘we_blog’, ‘we_blink’. I have yet to see it picked up by anyone else, though, so maybe I should give it a rest…