…not your friend in the void?

From The Null Device:

“Anti-US T-shirts seem to be all the rage in Canada, with Canadians eschewing peace signs for angrier statements, of the sort that might get one hospitalised south of the border.

Anti-war slogans seemed to be getting increasingly anti-American, with people going to everything from protests to the gym to trendy parties wearing tops that say Bush is a Terrorist or Twin Terrors above pictures of Bush and Osama Bin Laden.

…You know, one could probably make a killing selling shoes with American flag-patterned soles in the Middle East (where stepping on something is considered the most grievious insult).”

Pick up your very own “American Psycho” teeshirt here.

Bullying Pulpit;

playing in the Bush leagues:

“He cajoles. He coerces. And when all else fails, he punishes.

President Bush came to the White House promising to change the tone of politics in Washington. In one respect, he has.

Scholars and historians say the Bush administration has set a new presidential standard when it comes to playing hardball politics with Congress.” — Michael Collins, Scripps Howard News Service

Skip meals, live longer?

Day-on, day-off diet boosts health: ” Eating double portions one day and nothing the next delivers the same health benefits to mice as seen in animals whose lifespan has been extended by restricting their calorie intake.

No one is suggesting people adopt such a diet. But the study adds to the evidence that caloric restriction works by activating some kind of protective mechanism, rather than simply being a result of eating less and thus suffering less damage as food is metabolised. If this is the case, there may be ways to switch on the protective mechanism without going on a crazy diet.” New Scientist

The Lonely Pleasure:

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The dangers of self-abuse: An illustration from The Sexual System and Its Derangements, a popular medical book published in Buffalo in 1875. (‘Masturbators’ are on the left, ‘abstainers’ on the right.)

From Sin to Symbol

Thomas W. Laqueur is a scholarly gumshoe with a specialty in sex. His last book, Making Sex: Body and Gender From the Greeks to Freud (1990), was a highly original investigation of a tantalizing mystery he had stumbled on in the archives: Why did female orgasm, long considered essential to conception, all but disappear from the historical record during the Enlightenment?

Now, in Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation, Mr. Laqueur, a professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley, tackles another enigma from the annals of sexual history: Why did masturbation, an activity regarded with benign indifference for millennia, provoke sweeping moral and medical panic around 1700?

Mr. Laqueur’s preoccupations are hardly the kind destined to endear him to the cultural right. In particular, his latest tome— which features a floating, naked woman wearing an expression of glazed-eyed ecstasy on its cover and a couple dozen graphic illustrations inside — seems designed to inflame critics convinced that the academy is populated by tenured radicals bent on selling students a morally suspect and intellectually trivial bill of goods. NY Times

Shift Left:

Researchers focus minds on mechanics of meditation: “A new study, accepted for publication soon in Psychosomatic Medicine, is a significant first step in understanding what goes on in the brain during meditation. The study was led by Richard Davidson, director of the laboratory for affective neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.” Sunspot

And: Religion versus science might be all in the mind: “For years now, one small branch of science has been chipping away at the foundations of religious belief by proposing that “otherworldly” experiences are nothing more than the inner workings of the human brain. Many neuroscientists claim they can locate and explain brain functions that produce everything from religious visions to sensations of bliss, timelessness or union with a higher power.

These claims have been strengthened by the work of the Canadian neuropsychologist Dr Michael Persinger. By stimulating the cerebral region presumed to control notions of self, Persinger has been able to induce in hundreds of subjects a “sensed presence” only the subjects themselves are aware of. This presence, Persinger suggests, may be described as Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Muhammad or the Sky Spirit – depending on the name the subject’s culture has trained him or her to use.” Sydney Morning Herald

When All or Nothing Is What It Seems –

A NY Times review of the new ‘B’ movie Identity

The second-handness of the situation, and of the characters who inhabit it, is explained — or justified, if you prefer — by an enormous, gold-plated pretzel of a plot twist that I will not divulge, lest my own head end up in someone’s clothes dryer. I should note, however, that the television commercial in which Mr. Cusack is shown in conversation with Alfred Molina comes very close to spoiling the surprise, which is odd since without the surprise the movie would have no reason to exist.

Whether it has much of a reason to exist with the surprise is another question. Once it is clear you are no longer watching the movie you thought you were watching, there doesn’t seem to be much point in going back to the movie that you thought you were watching, which is nonetheless what happens. Still with me? When the revelation comes — the moment that explains why all these panicky people are running around in the rain miles from anywhere — it does administer a pleasurable jolt. You think: “Wow. Cool.”

But the impression of cleverness, and the filmmaking dexterity that created it, fades pretty quickly, and you are left thinking: “What? Wait a minute.”

In similar fashion, once it is clear you are no longer reading the review you thought you were reading, there doesn’t seem to be much point in continuing. Nevertheless the reviewer goes on and on writing, belaboring his point. We get it. It is not even that extraordinary for Hollywood to twist a plot so badly you feel manipulated and cheated, and for the movie to go on and on even after it has exhausted its one trick. Off the top of my head, there was M. Night Shyamalan’s critically acclaimed (largely because he fooled everybody so?) Sixth Sense several years ago, which probably did it much better than this.

Young Minds Force-Fed With Indigestible Texts –

The Language Police reviewed: “Diane Ravitch provides an impassioned examination of how right-wing and left-wing pressure groups have succeeded in sanitizing textbooks and tests.” NY Times The book arose from the author’s examination of the content guidelines of the major educational publishing companies as part of a Presidential committee on standardized testing during the Clinton Administration. She was amazed, incredulous, disheartened by the number of topics and terms that were off-limits in educational content (see examples in the article). It all comes down to the educational mega-corporations protecting their profitability. Their investment in developing a given textbook will be down the tubes if one of the larger states such as Florida or California fails to buy it because it offends somebody’s notion of political correctness. Likewise, a standardized test susceptible to challenge and possible invalidation because its content is too disturbing or noninclusive would not get bought.

Clash of Civilizations Dept. –

Bush had better make his rumored proclamation that the hostilities in Iraq are ‘officially’ over soon, before U.S. forces do any more killing like this Yahoo! News or this Christian Science Monitor.

And: Iraqis target Gen. Franks for war crimes trial: “Iraqi civilians are preparing a complaint to present in court in Belgium accusing allied commander Gen. Tommy Franks and other U.S. military officials of war crimes in Iraq, according to the attorney representing the plaintiffs.” Washington Times

From Many Imaginations,

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One Fearsome Creature: “Dragon images have been found on the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, on scrolls from China, in Egyptian hieroglyphs and Ethiopian sketches, on the prows of Viking ships, in bas relief on Aztec temples, on cliffs above the Mississippi River and even on bones carved by Inuits in climates where no reptile could live.

Now scholars drawing on primitive art, fossilized bones and ancient legends are struggling to explain how cultures that had no contact with one another constructed mythical creatures so remarkably similar. And why did dragons persist so long?” NY Times A fascinating question; an unsatisfying article.

The North Korean Solution –

What’s so bad about Kim’s latest offer?: “It would be worth Bush’s while to consider the possibility that Kim’s desire for a non-aggression pact is sincere and his desire for nuclear weapons, short of such a pact, might be rational. Bush, after all, listed North Korea, along with Iraq and Iran, as a member of the ‘axis of evil’. He pointedly refuses to exclude military force as a possible way to deal with North Korea’s threat. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a few months ago, sent F-117s to the U.S. base in South Korea and B-1s to Guam as an explicit counterthreat.” — Fred Kaplan, Slate.

Nicholas Kristof makes a similar argument in his op-ed piece in today’s New York Times. Both point out that Kim may indeed be blackmailing the U.S, but that he may have us over a barrel. Even if armed with 1950’s-vintage Soviet weaponry, taking on the North Korean army on the ground would be formidable. Pushing them to use their nuclear ace-in-the-hole would be, of course, devastating, and easy to do. Destroying North Korea’s nuclear capabilities with our ordnance would shower fallout all over the peninsula.