Day: April 28, 2004

Attacks halt rebuilding of Iraq

“Disaster facing power network as contractors pull out

Vital reconstruction work in Iraq has almost completely ground to a halt after being ‘screwed up’ by the deteriorating security situation in the country, senior coalition officials have told the Guardian.

Unless the situation improves dramatically in the next few weeks, essential work on the electricity network will not be complete before the extreme heat of the summer arrives, raising the prospect of months of power cuts similar to those that led to riots and widespread discontent last year, the officials warned.”

The Enchanted Glass

Michael Shermer:

We have a cognitive bias to see ourselves in a more positive light than others see us.
“Francis Bacon and experimental psychologists show why the facts in science never just speak for themselves…

In the first trimester of the gestation of science, one of science’s midwives, Francis Bacon, penned an immodest work entitled Novum Organum (‘new tool,’ after Aristotle’s Organon) that would open the gates to the ‘Great Instauration’ he hoped to inaugurate through the scientific method. Rejecting both the unempirical tradition of scholasticism and the Renaissance quest to recover and preserve ancient wisdom, Bacon sought a blend of sensory data and reasoned theory.

Cognitive barriers that color clear judgment presented a major impediment to Bacon’s goal. He identified four: idols of the cave (individual peculiarities), idols of the marketplace (limits of language), idols of the theater (preexisting beliefs) and idols of the tribe (inherited foibles of human thought).

Experimental psychologists have recently corroborated Bacon’s idols, particularly those of the tribe, in the form of numerous cognitive biases. The self-serving bias, for example, dictates that we tend to see ourselves in a more positive light than others see us: national surveys show that most businesspeople believe that they are more moral than other businesspeople, and psychologists who study moral intuition think they are more moral than other such psychologists. In one College Entrance Examination Board survey of 829,000 high school seniors, less than 1 percent rated themselves below average in ‘ability to get along with others,’ and 60 percent put themselves in the top 10 percent. And according to a 1997 U.S. News and World Report study on who Americans believe are most likely to go to heaven, 52 percent said Bill Clinton, 60 percent thought Princess Diana, 65 percent chose Michael Jordan and 79 percent selected Mother Teresa. Fully 87 percent decided that the person most likely to see paradise was the survey taker!” — Scientific American

"We hold these freedoms to be self-evident… "

“Do you want to block traumatic memories from scarring your mind? Perhaps you do, but would you be happy if someone else did it for you? Or how about receiving marketing messages beamed directly at you in hypersonic waves? Mind control is getting smarter by the minute, says Richard Glen Boire, co-founder of the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics in California. And, as he told Liz Else, we ain’t seen nothing yet…” — New Scientist

Hacking the cheap "single-use" digital cameras

I wondered if the disposable camera craze would extend to digitals. Apparently, they are here and ‘not bad for the price’, especially because it is apparently not difficult to transform them into multi-use cameras. And you are being an environmentally responsible resource conserver in the process. “(There are) several inexpensive ($10.99 MSRP) single-use digital cameras currently on the market in the US. Picture quality is a bit lacking, but acceptable for Web images and the like, and certainly not bad for the price… The camera is easily adapted from single-use to many-use following the instructions below, and is powered by two easily-replaced AA batteries. While they are sold with the intention that you return them at some point for processing (they give you prints and a photo CD, but keep the camera), there is nothing (no contract, rental agreement, deposit, etc.) that actually requires you to return it–once you buy it, it’s yours to do with as you please.”

Many Died Saving Kims’ Portraits in Blast?

“Many North Koreans died a ‘heroic death’ after last week’s train explosion by running into burning buildings to rescue portraits of leader Kim Jong-il and his father, the North’s official media reported on Wednesday.

Portraits of Kim and his late father, national founder Kim Il-sung, are mandatory fixtures in every home, office and factory in the hardline communist state of 23 million. All adults are required to wear lapel pins bearing images of one or both Kims.” — Yahoo! News

The Fallujah Dilemma

If the marines attack, we can no longer pretend the war is over, says Fred Kaplan: “If the U.S. Marines storm Fallujah in the next few days, as they seem to be preparing to do, the act would transform the occupation and almost certainly for the worse.

It would mean, first, a resumption of war. No longer could U.S. officials speak of conducting mere “security and stabilization operations”—the Marines’ declared mission last month when they took over the area from the Army’s 82nd airborne division. SASO (the military’s acronym for such operations) is essentially police work with heavy armaments in a war, or postwar, zone. It is not an accurate term for invading a city of half a million people or strafing it with gunship fire.

Full-scale warfare would also likely mean postponing the June 30 handover of sovereignty. The transfer—which the Bush administration considers “limited” to begin with—could not occur in any measure if American armed forces are engaged in “major combat operations” (as the president called them when he proclaimed that they were over last May Day). Some have dismissed this deadline as arbitrary and the transfer itself as symbolic. But symbols are important in the Middle East. A delay, for whatever reason, will confirm suspicions that Americans simply wants Iraqi oil and will never loosen their grip. A delay caused by an American escalation of conflict will clinch the matter and, as a result, strengthen popular support for the insurgents.” — Slate

A Vision of Power

“There’s a deep mystery surrounding Dick Cheney’s energy task force, but it’s not about what happened back in 2001. Clearly, energy industry executives dictated the content of a report that served their interests.

The real mystery is why the Bush administration has engaged in a three-year fight — which reaches the Supreme Court today — to hide the details of a story whose broad outline we already know.

One possibility is that there is some kind of incriminating evidence in the task force’s records. Another is that the administration fears that full disclosure will highlight its chummy relationship with the energy industry. But there’s a third possibility: that the administration is really taking a stand on principle. And that’s what scares me.” — Paul Krugman, New York Times op-ed

R.I.P. Thom Gunn

Poet Who Left Tradition for the Counterculture Dead at 74: “Thom Gunn, a transplanted British poet identified with the San Francisco scene and the California liberated style, died on Sunday night at his home in San Francisco, his adopted hometown. He was 74…

Acclaimed as one of the most promising young poets of postwar Britain, Mr. Gunn found his own voice after he migrated to California in the 1950’s and established himself in San Francisco, his home for the rest of his life. There, he wedded traditional form to unorthodox themes like LSD, panhandling and homosexuality. He experimented with free verse and syllabic stanzas. In doing so he evolved from British tradition and European existentialism to embrace the relaxed ways of the California counterculture.

Born and educated in England, he was grouped as a young man at Cambridge in the 1950’s with a generation of writers, notably Philip Larkin, known as the Movement. Their verse was celebrated for its dry, skeptical rejection of what they saw as rhymed grandiosity.” New York Times

R.I.P. Hubert Selby Jr.

Author of Last Exit to Brooklyn Dies at 75: “Hubert Selby Jr., the Brooklyn-born ex-merchant mariner who turned to drugs and to writing after cheating death and created a lasting vision of urban hell in his novel Last Exit to Brooklyn, died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 75…

Mr. Selby had no formal training, and disdained the prim order of punctuation and plot. His writing was spare and direct. But what most marked his work was the stark despair and loneliness he described in such shocking terms that some of his work was blocked for a time in the United States, and later England, as obscene.” New York Times