How to believe in S*c*i*e*n*t*o*l*o*g*y

“As an ex-s*c*i*e*n*t*o*l*o*g*i*s*t, I am frequently accused of stupidity for being so gullible. I’m not gullible at all ordinarily, so how come I fell prey to the cult? How did I reconcile the more ‘way-out’ aspects of s*c*i*e*n*t*o*l*o*g*y with the normal world around me?

There was nothing inconsistent to reconcile. It really did all make perfect sense at the time… Here are some ways this can be achieved by a cult…” (Operation Clambake)

Armageddon It

I saw War of the Worlds tonight, opening night, and it is visually arresting, relentless and brutal. This Village Voice review by Michael Atkinson has a couple of interesting takes on the film. The iconography of 9-11 and the collapse of the World Trade Center is certainly exploited in the film’s depiction of mass catastrophe, and the reviewer is right to caution those with first-hand traumatization from ground zero to see it at their peril. But it doesn’t seem so much political allegory as attempted exploitation of our experience. The trouble with attempting to burrow deep into our post-9-11 psyches to tap into our visceral traumatization is, I suspect, that many people are just not that caught up any more in the trauma of 9-11, for at least two reasons to which Spielberg is not oblivious to judge from allusions in the film. The trauma of the terrorist attacks has been detoxified partly by our numbing (more of that below) but more profoundly by the caricature of fear the buffoons running the country have produced with their ludicrous War on Terror® ever since. As they flee the initial alien attack in Bayonne where the film opens, Spielberg has the daughter figure plead with her father, Tom Cruise, to tell her if it is “the terrorists” they are running from. Spielberg throws that in our faces not once but several times to be sure we get how laughable and pitiful it is that that has become our kneejerk standard in threat assessment. If he is attempting to exploit our deepest fears, he is doing it not without irony.

The film not only traumatizes nonstop but, collapsed onto one character, the daughter, we have a decent cinematographic portrait of traumatization per se, both the psychic numbing and the hyperreactivity that come from being exposed to something beyond the pale of what humans are meant to endure. Her father has a sense of what she is going through too. Again, not once but several times during the film, he shields her eyes and firmly instructs her not to look at what they are passing through. Shouldn’t this be seen at least partly as an allusion to American obliviousness to where the real threats are coming from in our world?

The funny thing about the daughter’s traumatization is that she is not shown rising above it at all; she gets more and more numb, passive and nondynamic as the film proceeds, to the point where it seems she barely has any lines in the last third. But, then again, H.G.Wells’ story wasn’t about transcendence or the indomitable human spirit either. [Spoiler ahead, stop here if you don’t already know the story.] The virtually undefeatable invaders are done in by earthly microbial infection of course, not human valor, in what has seemed to me ever since I read the novel in my childhood (no, I wasn’t around for Orson Welles’ famous Mercury Theater radio broadcast!) to be an unsatisfying deus ex machina despite Wells’ epilogue (done very nicely in the film by Morgan Freeman’s voiceover) about it saying something about humans’ exerting their will — and their right — to survive. (Independence Day has already been there, done that, and, as you know, it is much more of a two-hour-long cliché.) Perhaps this is another ironic twist by Spielberg as by Wells: it will be a miracle if we persevere despite our stupidity and arrogance.

What Cruise shields his daughter’s eyes from, at least as much as the mass carnage the invaders wreak, is the rampant human cruelty and inhumanity which erupts with the breakdown of social order and mass panic. This more mundane inhumanity which erupts after a ‘terrorist’ attack can be seen, of course, as a commmentary on our post-9-11 existence as well, although we are left to believe that, just as on the family level the daughter is sinply reunited with her mother in the climactic scene (or, should I say, anticlimactic?), everything is now going to return to the prior status quo on the societal level after the aliens’ demise. Everything except Cruise, of course, who goes from a caricature of a deadbeat father to find cheap and somewhat inexplicable redemption. I’m sure it is written into his contracts that this must be the case with any role he takes.

Which brings me to the Voice reviewer’s more curious contention, in his last paragraph.

“Wells’s Martians-arriving-in-meteors paradigm is subtly altered, so that now the genocidal ETs are delivered by lightning bolts into the dormant ships buried underground for eons — kind of like the time frame for s*c*i*e*n*t*o*l*o*g*y’s alien occupation backstory. Could Tom be thinking he’s finally produced a D*i*a*n*e*t*i*c cinema?”

Certainly, the rise of the long-dormant threat is a new twist Spielberg has introduced and a departure from Wells’ story line. I don’t know enough about s*c*i*e*n*t*o*l*o*g*y to comment on any similarities with its “alien occupation backstory” but it is Spielberg’s film, not “Tom Cruise’s War of the World”, despite the frequency with which it seems to be referred to that way in the media. Although Spielberg has apparently been quite tolerant of Cruise’s proselytizing while they promote this movie, I am not convinced that, no adherent of s*c*i*e*n*t*o*l*o*g*y himself, he would plausibly give away artistic control of the worldview his film expresses no matter how big a star he has in tow. Could you see this as an allusion to the ‘sleeper cells’ al Qaeda supposedly planted here eons ago, instead? And of course Spielberg’s friend George Lucas did just release that anti-Bush film, Revenge of the Sith.

But…was I thinking about any of the above as I sat in the movie theater? No, I was riveted and scared witless with, except for one glaring continuity glitch, my disbelief totally suspended.

R.I.P. Chet Helms

Father of San Francisco’s Summer of Love, 62: “Chet Helms, known as the father of the Summer of Love and the rock promoter who brought Janis Joplin to San Francisco, died here on Saturday. He was 62. The cause was complications of a stroke, his family said.

Mr. Helms was the founder and manager of Big Brother and the Holding Company, with Joplin as its legendary lead singer. He helped stage free concerts and Human Be-ins at Golden Gate Park, which became the backdrop for the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967. He was the first producer of psychedelic light-show concerts at the Fillmore and the Avalon Ballroom and was instrumental in helping to develop bands delivering the San Francisco sound.

‘Without Chet, there would be no Grateful Dead, no Big Brother and the Holding Company, no Jefferson Airplane, no Country Joe and the Fish, no Quicksilver Messenger Service,’ said Barry Melton, the lead guitarist for Country Joe and the Fish. ‘He wasn’t just a promoter; he was a supporter of music and art. He supported people emotionally, psychologically and psychically. He made the scene what it was.'”

Could GM and Microsoft End Up in Chinese Hands?

More on the reactions stimulated by the news, to which I blinked below, that a Chinese oil concern is going after Unocal. And recall that IBM sold its PC division to a Chinese buyer and that China’s largest apppliance manufacturer is going after Maytag. The columnist explains China’s lust for American brand names not just as blind reverence for American capitalism, of course, but as an efficient means of boosting global sales and distribution capabilities in a rapidly expanding economy and, especially, gaining entry points into the U.S. market. Pressuring the Chinese to let its currency rise will only make that easier. Trade barriers erected by the West to address the growing trade imbalance may further encourage Chinese firms to do an end-around and invest directly in the West. (Bloomberg)

Is our reaction to the threat of Chinese takeovers based on a security concern or plain old American jingoism and xenophobia, shades of the ’80’s fears that the US was being bought up by Japan? Contrast the nonplussed reaction that T.R. Reid, writing about the ‘United States of Europe’, has been getting on the talk show circuit when he runs down the extent of European corporate ownership of familiar American brands; he means to dramatize the hidden economic contention of the EU, not raise the hue and cry about a covert hostile takeover. My guess is that, similarly, most Americans wouldn’t notice any difference after a Chinese takeover of one of their trusty brand names, and after all, globalization is equally an issue whether the CEOs are Asians or Caucasians. The author does observe however, that “…(i)t would be a mistake for U.S. politicians to fall into the same kind of xenophobia they exhibited with Japan,” but his reasoning is that struggling American firms might be rejuvenated by a Chinese partner. He concludes that America should get ready for the arrival of Corporate China. But Corporate America remains by far the greater threat to our security and freedom, IMHO.

Senate Gives Feds Power to Approve LNG Terminal Sites

“The Senate voted on Wednesday to give federal regulators authority over the location of liquefied natural gas terminals, despite objections from governors that states should be have an equal say in deciding where such projects are built.

Republican and Democratic officials from city halls to Capitol Hill have expressed concern that the terminals could become targets of terrorist attacks or pose other safety risks, and they have sought a role in siting them. But President Bush has pushed to put Washington in charge of deciding where terminals are built, saying that a lengthy approval process could delay the building of facilities critical to providing the natural gas needed to fuel the nation’s economy.

On Wednesday, a majority of the Senate agreed with him. The lawmakers voted 52-45 against adding a provision to the energy legislation that would have given governors the authority to veto or impose conditions on the terminals. As a result, the Senate bill — like energy legislation approved by the House — would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the final word on where terminals are built, virtually ensuring that the provision will be included in any final bill that emerges from Congress.

The action came as the Senate headed toward approval of a sweeping overhaul of national energy policy, a Bush priority that has gained momentum as energy prices have surged.” (LA Times)

Open thread

What has been on your mind? What is the most helpful thing you did during the past month? What has been the most hopeful sign you’ve seen recently?

The first 25 weblogs

Scroll down for the list, in reverse chronological order. I know it depends somewhat on how you define a weblog, but some of the old-schoolers find the list fairly accurate. (Single Planet)

It is astonishing that while, by this count, there were only twenty-five weblogs by March, 1999, by a scant eight months later when Follow me Here was born in November 1999 it was the 8.570th weblog created just counting the ones using the Blogger tool (the only way I have to rank myself). That was when weblogs like mine had to have a small sidebar explanation of what a weblog was, and when references to weblogs and weblogging in the mainstream media were so exceptional, arising once every few months, that most weblogs linked excitedly to each one.

The Myth of American Exceptionalism

Who Are Americans to Think That Freedom Is Theirs to Spread? “Despite the exceptional character of American liberty, every American president has proclaimed America’s duty to defend it abroad as the universal birthright of mankind. John F. Kennedy echoed Jefferson when, in a speech in 1961, he said that the spread of freedom abroad was powered by ”the force of right and reason”; but, he went on, in a sober and pragmatic vein, ”reason does not always appeal to unreasonable men.” The contrast between Kennedy and the current incumbent of the White House is striking. Until George W. Bush, no American president — not even Franklin Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson — actually risked his presidency on the premise that Jefferson might be right. But this gambler from Texas has bet his place in history on the proposition, as he stated in a speech in March, that decades of American presidents’ ”excusing and accommodating tyranny, in the pursuit of stability” in the Middle East inflamed the hatred of the fanatics who piloted the planes into the twin towers on Sept. 11.

…There is nothing worse than believing your son or daughter, brother or sister, father or mother died in vain. Even those who have opposed the Iraq war all along, who believe that the hope of planting democracy has lured America into a criminal folly, do not want to tell those who have died that they have given their lives for nothing. This is where Jefferson’s dream must work. Its ultimate task in American life is to redeem loss, to rescue sacrifice from oblivion and futility and to give it shining purpose. The real truth about Iraq is that we just don’t know — yet — whether the dream will do its work this time. This is the somber question that hangs unanswered as Americans approach this Fourth of July.” — Michael Ignatieff (New York Times Magazine)


The Power and the Glory: “The notion of American exceptionalism—that the United States alone has the right, whether by divine sanction or moral obligation, to bring civilization, or democracy, or liberty to the rest of the world, by violence if necessary—is not new. It started as early as 1630 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony when Governor John Winthrop uttered the words that centuries later would be quoted by Ronald Reagan. Winthrop called the Massachusetts Bay Colony a “city upon a hill.” Reagan embellished a little, calling it a “shining city on a hill.”

…The true heroes of our history are those Americans who refused to accept that we have a special claim to morality and the right to exert our force on the rest of the world. I think of William Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionist. On the masthead of his antislavery newspaper, The Liberator, were the words, “My country is the world. My countrymen are mankind.”” — Howard Zinn (Boston Review)

Cell Phones Now Playing Role of Wallet

“…(S)ince more than a quarter of the people on the planet already carry around cell phones, and hundreds of millions are joining them every year, why should they bring along credit and debit cards when a mobile device can make payments just as well?

…While the mightiest players in Western banking have yet to embrace that notion, and some are dubious of the appeal, the concept has drawn interest in other regions and may get a tryout here soon.” (Lycos)

R.I.P. Paul Winchell

‘Voice of Tigger’ Dies at 82: “Paul Winchell, a ventriloquist, inventor and children’s TV show host best known for creating the lispy voice of Winnie the Pooh’s animated friend Tigger, has died. He was 82.

Winchell died Friday morning in his sleep at his Moorpark home, Burt Du Brow, a television producer and close family friend, told the Los Angeles Times.

Over six decades, Winchell was a master ventriloquist — bringing dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff to life on television — and an inventor who held 30 patents, including one for an early artificial heart he built in 1963.

But he was perhaps best known for his work as the voice of the lovable tiger in animated versions of A.A. Milne’s ‘Winnie the Pooh’ — with his trademark ‘T-I-double grrrr-R.'” (Yahoo! News)

If you haven’t shared children’s delight at the Winnie the Pooh Disney movies, Paul Winchell’s name may mean nothing to you. However, although I know I am dating myself, I am irked that that is what he is most known for. ‘Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney’ was for me the quintessential ventroloquist-and-dummy duo when I was growing up. I thought Winchell had singlehandedly invented the genre, only later becoming familiar with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Bergen was in fact Winchell’s childhood hero and he was thrilled when they finally appeared jointly.

Winchell lamented the eclipse of ventriloquism:

“Ventriloquism today is in a slump,” he told the AP. “I think television defeats ventriloquism. Children are so used to seeing puppets that when they see a real ventriloquist they don’t understand it. On television, everyone talks and they don’t care about the mechanics.”

I beg to differ, Mr. Winchell; only exposed to ventroliquist acts on t.v. (mostly yours and Shari Lewis’), I took no lack of fascination or joy in them. Rest in peace.

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R.I.P. Paul Winchell

‘Voice of Tigger’ Dies at 82: “Paul Winchell, a ventriloquist, inventor and children’s TV show host best known for creating the lispy voice of Winnie the Pooh’s animated friend Tigger, has died. He was 82.

Winchell died Friday morning in his sleep at his Moorpark home, Burt Du Brow, a television producer and close family friend, told the Los Angeles Times.

Over six decades, Winchell was a master ventriloquist — bringing dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff to life on television — and an inventor who held 30 patents, including one for an early artificial heart he built in 1963.

But he was perhaps best known for his work as the voice of the lovable tiger in animated versions of A.A. Milne’s ‘Winnie the Pooh’ — with his trademark ‘T-I-double grrrr-R.'” (Yahoo! News)

If you haven’t shared children’s delight at the Winnie the Pooh Disney movies, Paul Winchell’s name may mean nothing to you. However, although I know I am dating myself, I am irked that that is what he is most known for. ‘Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney’ was for me the quintessential ventroloquist-and-dummy duo when I was growing up. I thought Winchell had singlehandedly invented the genre, only later becoming familiar with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Bergen was in fact Winchell’s childhood hero and he was thrilled when they finally appeared jointly.

Winchell lamented the eclipse of ventriloquism:

“Ventriloquism today is in a slump,” he told the AP. “I think television defeats ventriloquism. Children are so used to seeing puppets that when they see a real ventriloquist they don’t understand it. On television, everyone talks and they don’t care about the mechanics.”

I beg to differ, Mr. Winchell; only exposed to ventroliquist acts on t.v. (mostly yours and Shari Lewis’), I took no lack of fascination or joy in them. Rest in peace.

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One More Consequence of the American War on Terror ®

Hardline Mayor Wins Iran Presidential Race: “The hardline Tehran mayor steamrolled over one of

Iran’s best-known statesman to win the presidency Saturday in a landslide election victory that cements conservative control over the nation’s political leadership.

The outcome capped a stunning upset by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who many reformers fear will take Iran back to the restrictions imposed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.” (Yahoo! News)

Italy judge orders arrest of 13 CIA agents

“An Italian judge on Friday ordered the arrests of 13 CIA officers for secretly transporting a Muslim preacher from Italy to Egypt as part of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts – a rare public objection to the practice by a close American ally.

The Egyptian was spirited away in 2003, purportedly as part of the CIA’s ‘extraordinary rendition’ program in which terror suspects are transferred to third countries without court approval, subjecting them to possible torture.

The arrest warrants were announced Friday by the Milan prosecutor’s office, which has called the disappearance a kidnapping and a blow to a terrorism investigation in Italy.” (associated Press)

Democrats Say Rove Should Apologize or Resign

“White House adviser Karl Rove should either apologize or resign for saying liberals responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes by wanting to ”prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers,” Democrats said Thursday.

Adding to the rancor, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested that Republican charges that Democrats were undermining the war on terror with their criticism of administration policies amounted to an act of desperation.” (New York Times )

Of course, the Democrats have it wrong. It is not apologize or resign; Rove should resign or resign.

A Joke Too Blue to Repeat…

…and the Movie That Dares to Tell It, Repeatedly: “How do you sell a movie about the dirtiest joke ever told?

… (T)he “funny human beings” in the film – famous comedians from Robin Williams to Chris Rock to Phyllis Diller to Jon Stewart – are not merely swearing… They’re telling their versions of a joke that involves every imaginable form of sexual perversion in graphic detail, including but not limited to incest, scatology, bestiality and sadism. Rabelais would blush.” (New York Times )

Verse Film Pits Love Against the Clash of Cultures

“Sally Potter – a dancer, choreographer, actress, singer, composer, writer, poet and filmmaker – has a new movie, Yes, opening on Friday. It follows Orlando (1993), The Tango Lesson (1997) and The Man Who Cried (2000) and several short films and documentaries. Yes stars Joan Allen, Simon Abkarian and Sam Neill. It is written in verse (iambic pentameter), one of the few films to use an unusual form of dialogue. (Two others are Force of Evil, 1948, in blank verse, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, 1964, which is sung through.) Yes has two main characters, She (Ms. Allen), an Irish-American, and He (Mr. Abkarian), an Arab from Beirut, who begin an affair in London and end it in Havana.” (New York Times )

Inconstant Constants

Do the inner workings of nature change with time?: “…Physics has progressed by making ever more accurate measurements of their values. And yet, remarkably, no one has ever successfully predicted or explained any of the constants. Physicists have no idea why they take the special numerical values that they do. In SI units, c is 299,792,458; G is 6.673 X 10-11; and me is 9.10938188 X 10-31–numbers that follow no discernible pattern. The only thread running through the values is that if many of them were even slightly different, complex atomic structures such as living beings would not be possible. The desire to explain the constants has been one of the driving forces behind efforts to develop a complete unified description of nature, or ‘theory of everything.’ Physicists have hoped that such a theory would show that each of the constants of nature could have only one logically possible value. It would reveal an underlying order to the seeming arbitrariness of nature.” (Scientific American)

Do games prime brain for violence?

Do games prime brain for violence?: “A small study of brain activity in video-game veterans suggests that their brains react as if they are treating the violence as real.

…He found that as violence became imminent, the cognitive parts of the brain became more active. And during a fight, emotional parts of the brain, such as the amygdala and parts of the anterior cingulate cortex, were shut down. This pattern is the same as that seen in subjects who have had brain scans during other simulated violent situations such as imagining an aggressive encounter. It is impossible to scan people’s brains during acts of real aggression so Mathiak argues that this is as close as you can get to the real thing. It suggests that video games are a “training for the brain to react with this pattern,” he says.” (New Scientist)

I haven’t read the study; I am just responding to the New Scientist report, but this doesn’t make much sense to me, it sounds like an unwarranted and misguided extrapolation. The fact that ‘cognitive’ areas of the brain are more active and ’emotional’ areas shut down (which by the way is a reductionistic distinction in itself) doesn’t sound much like real preparation for violence as it does the extra cognitive steps necessary to process a virtual simulation. There is of course no way to do fMRI scans of perpetrators in the midst of actual violence; and this study adds nothing to the debate about the core dilemma of whether exposure to violent content makes people violence-prone, whether violence-prone people are more drawn to violent content, or whether a fantasy outlet for violent urges diffuses the possibility of real-world violence.

Why your brain has a ‘Jennifer Aniston cell’

“Obsessed with reruns of the TV sitcom Friends? Well then you probably have at least one “Jennifer Aniston cell” in your brain, suggests research on the activity patterns of single neurons in memory-linked areas of the brain. The results point to a decades-old and dismissed theory tying single neurons to individual concepts and could help neuroscientists understand the elusive human memory.

“For things that you see over and over again, your family, your boyfriend, or celebrities, your brain wires up and fires very specifically to them. These neurons are very, very specific, much more than people think,” says Christof Koch at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, US, one of the researchers.

In the 1960s, neuroscientist Jerry Lettvin suggested that people have neurons that respond to a single concept such as, for example, their grandmother. The notion of these hyper-specific neurons, coined “grandmother cells” was quickly rejected by psychologists as laughably simplistic.

But Rodrigo Quiroga, at the University of Leicester, UK, who led the new study, and his colleagues have found some very grandmother-like cells. Previous unpublished findings from the team showed tantalising results: a neuron that fired only in response to pictures of former US president Bill Clinton, or another to images of the Beatles…” (New Scientist)

A New Way to Get Refills

“The Wall Street Journal reports that patients in Virginia and California have a new way to get refills of their medications: an ATM-like automatic dispensing machines. From the article:

Once customers have filled an initial prescription with the pharmacist, they can register to retrieve and pay for their refills at a vending machine inside the store–even when the pharmacy counter isn’t open. Consumers order their refills in the usual way, either online or by phone. A pharmacist then fills the script and places packaged medicines in the machine. To pick up the order, consumers log on with a user name and password and swipe a credit or debit card. Their pre-wrapped package drops into the bin.

The California and Virginia pharmacy boards have cleared the way for the machines in their states, granting waivers of rules that require a pharmacist be present in order for drugs to be dispensed. And other states are considering allowing the machines.”


Author renounces ‘Anarchist Cookbook’

“It’s rare that an author wants to see his most famous work taken out of print.

But that’s the case with Willaim Powell’s The Anarchist Cookbook, a guide to weapons and bomb-making, written 36 years ago, during the turbulent 1960s, by a 19-year-old fresh out of high school.

Powell has taken the unusual step of renouncing his work in an author’s review on, one of many retail venues still selling the book.” (WorldNetDaily)

Don’t Pardon Big Tobacco

A reader wrote:

“I am writing on behalf of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. I don’t know if you saw it recently, but the Bush Administration is trying to let Big Tobacco off the hook to the tune of $120 billion! That’s right, in the final days of its ongoing lawsuit against Big Tobacco, the US Department of Justice reduced the amount of money they were seeking from the industry to pay for quit-smoking programs – from $130 billion to $10 billion! A $120 billion sellout – contradicting a government expert’s testimony in the very same trial.

Now, under pressure from Congress, the Justice Department is investigating whether political appointees ordered government lawyers to cave in a blatant political favor to the industry. But the story is clear: Big Tobacco has made millions in campaign contributions. And now they’re calling in a favor!

We’re planning a virtual protest on June 23 to show the Bush Administration that selling out the public health will not stand!

Would you consider providing a link to and encourage your readers to join the campaign? You can also obtain more information on the lawsuit at

Activists can send a letter to the Administration, write a letter to the editor, or sign up for the Virtual Protest that we’re holding on Thursday, June 23. We need your help to generate enough calls and letters to make them listen and not let Big Tobacco off the hook once again.”

The Great Jewish-American Synthesis

“Ever since the first Jew arrived on American shores 350 years ago, one question has persistently been asked but never definitively answered. Should Jews accommodate themselves to the culture of the United States, even if so doing carries the risk of serious, sometimes fatal revisions to the traditions that have long defined Judaism? Or should preservation of the traditions come first, even if that means never really fitting into American culture as other groups, primarily Christian, have done?” (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Godel and the Nature of Mathematical Truth

A talk with novelist and philosopher Rebecca Goldstein: “Godel mistrusted our ability to communicate. Natural language, he thought, was imprecise, and we usually don’t understand each other. Godel wanted to prove a mathematical theorem that would have all the precision of mathematics—the only language with any claims to precision—but with the sweep of philosophy. He wanted a mathematical theorem that would speak to the issues of meta-mathematics. And two extraordinary things happened. One is that he actually did produce such a theorem. The other is that it was interpreted by the jazzier parts of the intellectual culture as saying, philosophically exactly the opposite of what he had been intending to say with it.” (The Edge)

Digital ‘Antigraffiti’…

…Peeling Away the Years: “This month the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences awarded its annual Webby (the online equivalent of an Oscar) for the best art site to Graffiti Archaeology,, a pictorial study of graffiti-covered walls as they evolve. At first entry, the site looks like Batman’s cave bathed in blue light. You go spelunking along a railroad track until you reach the heart of Graffiti Archaeology. There you will find a list of eight locations in California (most in San Francisco) where graffiti grows, gets erased and grows again.

The creator of the site, Cassidy Curtis, a San Francisco animator in his 30’s, isn’t just being cute when he calls it ‘graffiti archaeology.’ It really is archaeology. You start at the surface and then peel away layers to look into the past. When you choose one of the locales and pick which wall you want to see, you are shown a recent photograph first. Then you can move backward in time or hop around, using a timeline at the bottom of the page. You can also zoom in to see details and navigate around the surface of the walls.

In effect, Mr. Curtis has made antigraffiti. He uncovers the layers that each successive graffiti artist has covered up.” (New York Times )

Plain, Simple, Primitive?

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Not the Jellyfish: “New research has made scientists realize that they have underestimated the jellyfish and its relatives – known collectively as cnidarians… Beneath their seemingly simple exterior lies a remarkably sophisticated collection of genes, including many that give rise to humans’ complex anatomy.” (New York Times )

Sometimes It’s Better Just to Do Less Harm

In this New York Times piece about a doctor’s Hobson’s choice with his nicotine-addicted patient comes this striking, succinct observation:

“…(T)he central challenge of treating any addiction is that the treatment is almost never as pleasurable as the addiction itself.

Like opiates and cocaine, nicotine is known to stimulate the release of dopamine in the reward pathways of the brain. This explains its pleasurable and powerfully self-reinforcing effects. Nicotine also releases an array of other neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine and vasopressin that mediate its other effects, like arousal, alertness and relaxation.”

"They are starting to put some teeth in their scrutiny"

Justices Overturn a Death Sentence, Citing an Inadequate Defense Counsel: “As a result of the 5-to-4 decision, Pennsylvania must now either give the defendant, Ronald Rompilla, a new capital sentencing hearing or sentence him to life in prison for the 1988 murder of the owner of a bar in Allentown, Pa.

The decision was the second in eight days in which the Supreme Court overturned a death sentence. Last Monday, in a case from Texas, the court overturned a 20-year-old murder conviction as well as the death sentence on the ground that the jury selection had been infected by racism.

The court also ruled in March that the Constitution barred capital punishment for those who committed crimes before the age of 18.

…Eric M. Freedman, a professor at Hofstra University School of Law who is a specialist in the death penalty and habeas corpus, said the trend indicated that the court was increasingly troubled by problems of adequate representation for capital defendants. “They are starting to put some teeth in their scrutiny” of these cases, Professor Freedman said in an interview. “The basis themes of fundamental fairness in the administration of the death penalty have penetrated the Supreme Court as well as the general public.” ” (New York Times )

Window into a Fantasy Worldview

For those of you not already familiar with it, the Daou Report at Salon collects excerpts from left-leaning and right-leaning weblogs in parallel columns. Today I was struck by the sloppy thinking I see in the righthand column. There are two artifices in evidence; these ought to be no surprise but are worth noting.

First, if your unshakeable convictions are challenged by a piece of evidence, just shoot the messenger, call him a liar. That’s how the right is grappling with the Downing Street Memo, ‘proving’ it is a fake despite the fact that its authenticity is not challenged by anyone in the British government, who it strikes me ought to know.

Second is the more insidious notion that people can’t change and that evidence of change must be suspect. This is apparent in the rightwing webloggers’ reminders to us (after the recent piece to which I blinked below) that no matter how often Robert Byrd is called the conscience of the Senate, ha ha, he is only a Klansman in sheep’s clothing, remember to throw that up in the lefties’ faces at every opportunity. Not only that, what right does Bill Clinton have to castigate the Bush administration for the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo when he was the one who began the practice of illegal detainment (and besides, while we’re at it, he’s a fornicator)?

In comments on my Byrd post, readers here have already taken note of this deeply faithless, unforgiving notion of human nature, which may be one of the most profound legacies of the rightwing domination of public discourse. And this from the supposed people of faith, the arbiters of faith! Others have equated the Right’s support for draconian measures in both foreign policy and on domestic security issues with the same notion — that people are stuck in who they are and there is no reasoning with them, and that leaves no option but for a morally superior elite to exercise unilateral control despite what the heathens, the terrrrrists, the criminals think. What do you think? Save NPR and PBS

As you must know by now, the House is threatening to slash half of the public funding for NPR and PBS, starting with ‘Sesame Street,’ ‘Reading Rainbow’ and other commercial-free children’s shows. Sign’s petition to Congress opposing these massive cuts to public broadcasting. Over 800,000 people have already signed; please help reach the goal of a million voices telling your senators and representative:

‘Congress must save NPR, PBS and local public stations. We trust them for in-depth news and educational children’s programming. It’s money well spent.’

A compiled petition with your individualized comment will be presented to your senators and representative with one click.

The lowest-hanging full moon in 18 years is going to play tricks on you this week

Summer Moon Illusion: “Sometimes you can’t believe your eyes. This week is one of those times.

Step outside any evening at sunset and look around. You’ll see a giant moon rising in the east. It looks like Earth’s moon, round and cratered; the Man in the Moon is in his usual place. But something’s wrong. This full moon is strangely inflated. It’s huge!

You’ve just experienced the Moon Illusion.

Sky watchers have known this for thousands of years: moons hanging low in the sky look unnaturally big. Cameras don’t see it, but our eyes do. It’s a real illusion.” (NASA)

American Psychological Society: Misinformation:

Seeing Is Believing: “On Sunday, Newsweek magazine retracted an earlier report that U.S. interrogators at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had flushed a copy of the Qur’an down a toilet. The initial report is credited with sparking deadly anti-American riots in Afghanistan and, as a result, the retraction has received widespread attention. But new research suggests that, even with a very public correction of the record, readers of the original report may continue to believe the now-discredited story.

The research, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society, suggests that once you’ve seen a news report, you may go on believing it, even if later information shows it to have been false.”

Poor choice of a story to study the credulousness of the public and the authority of the media, if you ask me. In this instance, particularly, who is to say the retraction was more credible than the original story?

Japan Paper Runs Censored A-Bomb Stories

“An American journalist who sneaked into Nagasaki soon after the Japanese city was leveled by a U.S. atomic bomb found a ‘wasteland of war’ and victims moaning from the pain of radiation burns in downtown hospitals.

Censored 60 years ago by the U.S. military, George Weller’s stories from the atom bombed-city surfaced this month in a series of reports in the national Mainichi newspaper.” (Yahoo! News)

I worked for the Mainichi when I lived in Japan in 1971 (and had no influence on the nuclear debate at the paper…). At that time, twenty-five years after the atomic bombings, the topic was still tiptoed around every time I tried engage my hosts on the issue and express my penitence for what my country had done to the Japanese.

Now, if they only had some enthusiasm for impeachment…

Republican senators challenge Bush’s Iraq optimism: “‘Too often we’ve been told and the American people have been told that we’re at a turning point,’ Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press.’ ‘What the American people should have been told and should be told … (is that) it’s long; it’s hard; it’s tough.’ ‘It’s going to be at least a couple more years,’ said McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, was quoted by U.S. News and World Report as saying the administration’s Iraq policy was failing. ‘Things aren’t getting better; they’re getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality,’ said Hagel, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. ‘It’s like they’re just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we’re losing in Iraq.'” (Reuters)

‘Teleporting’ over the internet

“Computer scientists in the US are developing a system which would allow people to ‘teleport’ a solid 3D recreation of themselves over the internet.

Professors Todd Mowry and Seth Goldstein of Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania think that, within a human generation, we might be able to replicate three-dimensional objects out of a mass of material made up of small synthetic ‘atoms’.

Cameras would capture the movement of an object or person and then this data would be fed to the atoms, which would then assemble themselves to make up an exact likeness of the object.

They came up with the idea based on ‘claytronics,’ the animation technique which involves slightly moving a model per frame to animate it.

‘We thought that a good analogy for what we were going to do was claymation – something like the Wallace and Gromit shows,’ Dr Mowry told BBC World Service’s Outlook programme.

‘When you watch something created by claymation, it is a real object and it looks like it’s moving itself. That’s something like the idea we’re doing… in our case, the idea is that you have computation in the ‘clay’, as though the clay can move itself.” (BBC)

The Clowning, Wilding-Out Battle Dancers of South Central L.A

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New York Times Magazine: “Abruptly, each in turn, they began to whip their arms around, hunching their shoulders, bending their bodies toward the sound and the violent lyrics, trancelike, as if some sort of battle was about to begin.

They shut their eyes then and let their heads nod. As the beats filled the room, the dancers started quivering and then caroming, at first delicately, then spasmodically, then picking up velocity in an alarming but strangely graceful way. They looked like rubber bands do when the tautened elastic is sprung.”

An Ingénue Who Blows Up Parliament

From the Wachowski Brothers: “In a rare concession, authorities here agreed to close down all of Whitehall, between Trafalgar and Parliament Squares, for a three-night film shoot earlier this month. The scene on the third night was wild. Hundreds of crew members and their equipment gathered in Parliament Square, flooded with light against the backdrop of Big Ben and the London Eye. Tanks patrolled the streets. More than 100 extras playing government commandos in army camouflage formed a line in front of Parliament, while some 400 others playing rebels marched en masse down Whitehall.

Such is the near future imagined in V for Vendetta, a forthcoming Warner Brothers movie, in which Britain is ruled by a band of brutal fascists, Natalie Portman is a rebel with a shaved head, and the hero-cum-vigilante, V (played by Hugo Weaving), spends the entire film shrouded in a costume that includes a black cape and a grotesque face mask.

But the most radical thing about the movie, written and produced by the brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski and based on a 1988 graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, is its climax. This is a story in which a dozy, passive populace wakes up and rises against its government oppressors – and then, in the name of freedom, blows up Parliament.” (New York Times )


Annals of Depravity (cont’d.)

Molester Suspected in 36,000 Abuse Cases: “Despite being arrested at least nine times for molesting boys, Dean Arthur Schwartzmiller managed to avoid lengthy prison terms, coach youth football, move in with another convicted sex offender — and be named by authorities as one of the most prolific child molesters in history.

Schwartzmiller’s criminal record began 35 years ago, but he never registered as a sex offender and spent just 12 years in prison. In his time on the utside, police suspect he molested children as many as 36,000 times in several states, Mexico and Brazil.

Wily, charismatic and ‘smarter than heck,’ is how James Kevan, one of his defense lawyers in the mid-1970s, described Schwartzmiller on Friday. ‘He could write up legal documents better than most lawyers.’ Often defending himself in court, Schwartzmiller got two of his four convictions overturned, even though the Idaho Supreme Court called him a repeat offender who ‘uses his intelligence to take advantage of the weak and oppressed and those who are in need.’

With Schwartzmiller, 63, being held without bail on charges involving two San Jose boys, police and the FBI are trying to retrace his movements over the last 30 years.” (Yahoo! News)

I know it is a cheap shot but… the Catholic Church should have ordained him.

Conyers vs. The Post

“There is painful irony in the fact that, during the same month that the confirmation of ‘Deep Throat’s’ identity has allowed the Washington Post to relive its Watergate-era glory days, that newspaper is blowing the dramatically more significant story of the ‘fixed’ intelligence the Bush administration used to scam Congress and U.S. allies into supporting the disasterous invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Last week, when the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Michigan Democrat John Conyers, chaired an extraordinary hearing on what has come to be known as the ‘Downing Street Memo’ — details of pre-war meetings where aides to British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed the fact that, while the case for war was ‘thin,’ the Bush administration was busy making sure that ‘the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy’ — the Post ridiculed Conyers and the dozens of other members of Congress who are trying to get to the bottom of a scandal that former White House counsel John Dean has correctly identified as ‘worse than Watergate.'” (The Nation)

Annals of the New Dark Ages (cont’d.)

Romanian priest unrepentant after crucifixion of nun: “A Romanian Orthodox priest, facing charges for ordering the crucifixion of a young nun because she was ‘possessed by the devil,’ was unrepentant as he celebrated a funeral ceremony for his alleged victim.

‘God has performed a miracle for her, finally Irina is delivered from evil,’ Father Daniel, 29, the superior of the Holy Trinity monastery in north-eastern Romania, told an AFP reporter before celebrating a short liturgy ‘for the soul of the deceased’, in the presence of 13 nuns who showed no visible emotion.” (AFP)

Schiavo autopsy results

‘Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who died in March after a fierce right-to-die battle that went all the way to the White House, was massively and irreversibly brain-damaged, pathologists announcing the results of an autopsy said on Wednesday.

The results supported clinical findings and the contention of her husband that Schiavo had been in a “persistent vegetative state” since collapsing 15 years earlier from a cardiac arrest that deprived her brain of oxygen, said Dr. Stephen Nelson, a forensic pathologist who assisted in the autopsy.

“She would not have been able to form any cognitive thought,” said Nelson, speaking with Pinellas County Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin at a news conference. “There was a massive loss of brain tissue.” ‘ (Reuters)

But who you gonna believe?

“I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office,” he said in a lengthy speech in which he quoted medical texts and standards. “She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist

R.I.P. Modjadji, 27

Sixth Rain Queen in Fertile Corner of South Africa Dies. In case you wondered if you still lived in an amazing and diverse world, read this fascinating obituary. I was enthralled by H. Rider Haggard’s books as a child but had no idea they were based on anything real.

Makobo Modjadji was the queen of the million or so Balobedu people in the northeast of South Africa; she died after a sudden gastrointestinal illness. Her people believe that magical powers, including control of clouds and rainmaking ability, are passed down in a female line of succession from queen to queen. (In passing I wonder if belief in sorcery of other sorts is part of the Balobedu worldview. If I recall correctly from my anthropological student days, sudden death with G.I. symptoms is often considered a result of a curse.)

Modjadji, crowned in 2003 — in a light drizzle, seen as a sign of her power! — was the sixth and youngest in the succession and the only one who had had any formal education.

“H. Rider Haggard’s classic novels King Solomon’s Mines and She first drew attention to the rain queen in the 1880’s. Her power was so feared that the Balobedu were left in relative peace for centuries despite the wars around the region. In times of drought, caravans of gifts were sent to their community, more than 150 rural villages set near thick forests full of rare trees resembling ferns and palms.

While the rain queen is the monarch, she governs through a council of men. Custom forbids the queen to marry, but the Royal Council chooses consorts for her for the sake of procreation.” (New York Times )

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Here is further ethnographic information. The Queen succeeded her grandmother, as her mother died before the grandmother’s reign ended. Usually, when a queen knows her time is near, she passes her crown on to her successor and then takes poison, it is said. And, it seems, the future queen’s liaisons were subjected to the same tabloid scrutiny as Diana’s, says The Guardian. The African National Congress, it turns out, has wooed the court of the Balobeda because of “its ability to deliver votes.”

In other news of exploitation, it would seem from this web site that South Africa is trying to capitalize on the tourist potential of the kingdom. And here, from the Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership, is a run-down of other matriarchal South African sub-states past and present. And, finally, “the Balobedu people were regarded as an ideal study sample…” for this 2005 psychological study of the cross-cultural validity of Erik Erikson’s stages of child development “…because of their relatively unchanged lifestyle which still resembles the traditional African way of life.”

Democrats Cite Downing Street Memo in Bolton Fight

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“U.S. Senate Democrats rejected a Republican compromise over John Bolton’s nomination as U.N. ambassador on Thursday and cited a British report backing their view that the Bush administration hyped intelligence on Iraq before the 2003 invasion.” (Washington Post)

It is hard to pick, of course, but Bolton’s nomination and the Downing Street memo are two of the more damning post-election developments from the Bush Cabal. Nice to see them linked by the Loyal Opposition.

“Concerns about this administration hyping intelligence and Great Britain hyping intelligence cannot be dismissed lightly,” (Senate Minority Leader Harry) Reid said, adding that it “is no small matter for us to learn whether Mr. Bolton was a party to other efforts to hype intelligence.”

Lessons for Religious Education From Cognitive Science of Religion

“Abstract: Recent work in the cognitive sciences provides new neurological/ biological and evolutionary bases for understanding the construction of knowledge (in the form of sets of ideas containing functionally useful inferences) and the capacity for imagination (as the ability to run inferences and generate ideas from information) in the human mind. In recent years, a growing number of scholars are making use of cognitive science to understand and explain religious beliefs and behaviors in terms of these evolved cognitive capacities and structures of mind. Based on a literature review of cognitive studies of religion, this article examines relevant themes from cognitive science studies of religion toward drawing pedagogical lessons for religious education.” (Rednova News)

How do I love thee?

Which of the nine ways?: “Simon Watts of Nottingham Trent University and Paul Stenner of University College London analysed the nature of modern love by asking 34 women and 16 men to agree or disagree with a set of 60 propositions. They identified nine varieties of love, reported in the British Journal of Social Psychology today. They are… ” [more] (Guardian.UK)

Are These People Mentally Ill?

Snake Phobias, Moodiness and a Battle in Psychiatry: “In a report released last week, researchers estimated that more than half of Americans would develop mental disorders in their lives, raising questions about where mental health ends and illness begins.

In fact, psychiatrists have no good answer, and the boundary between mental illness and normal mental struggle has become a battle line dividing the profession into two viscerally opposed camps.

On one side are doctors who say that the definition of mental illness should be broad enough to include mild conditions, which can make people miserable and often lead to more severe problems later.

On the other are experts who say that the current definitions should be tightened to ensure that limited resources go to those who need them the most and to preserve the profession’s credibility with a public that often scoffs at claims that large numbers of Americans have mental disorders.

The question is not just philosophical: where psychiatrists draw the line may determine not only the willingness of insurers to pay for services, but the future of research on moderate and mild mental disorders. Directly and indirectly, it will also shape the decisions of millions of people who agonize over whether they or their loved ones are in need of help, merely eccentric or dealing with ordinary life struggles.” (New York Times )

The issue is heating up right now in the runoff toward the next edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), due in 2010 or 2011. The DSM is the ‘bible’ which defines official mental disorders and their ‘official’ limits. There has been a tension ever since the beginnings of clinical psychiatry between lumpers and dividers. The former leads to contraction of the numbers of diagnoses, each of which has a broader scope, while the latter leads to the proliferation of narrow pigeonhole diagnoses. This also has some relationship to the tension between those who believe in qualitative differences between pathology and normalcy and those who believe in a continuum between more and less disturbed. Finally, this also maps to a difference between those who believe in treating psychiatric ‘diseases’ and those who target every symptom independently.

Diagnostic attitudes in modern psychiatry are, unfortunately, also strongly influenced by market pressures by psychopharmaceutical manufacturers, muddying the waters. As I am fond of saying, if the only tool you have is a hammer, it pays to see more and more nails around you everywhere. The Boston psychiatric establishment, where I practice, has a reputation of being at one extreme of the psychopharmacological continuum of disregarding diagnosis or putative disease process in favor of treating ‘target symptoms’, i.e. throwing a medication at every aspect of behavioral disturbance a patient demonstrates. The consequences are predictable. Patients come in with an obscenely lengthy roster of medications (and an obscenely weighty roster of side effects and complications!). New medications are usually added, and dosages of existing ones jacked up, as new distress emerges but the list is rarely pruned back when the patient is stable. The industry reaps the profits while the patient often suffers slowed and impaired thinking and activity; obesity and metabolic disturbance; sexual dysfunction and/or neurological damage. The intent of the DSM was supposed to be that clinically valid diagnosis would drive therapeutic decisions, not the other way around.

I have also written about another consequence of clumsy and slapdash diagnosis not driven by thoughtful clinical reasoning. Patients with personality styles, or personality disturbances, who are disinclined to accept responsibility for their behaviors, find it quite easy to obtain an ‘objective’ diagnosis of a disease to ‘explain’ their ills and let them off the hook for their behaviors or their recovery. Naive inexperienced clinicians (and let us not fool ourselves, a large majority of modern mental health treatment is delivered by trainees or therapists otherwise inexperienced!) ‘enable’ and collude with diagnosis-seeking by personality-disordered patients or, in some cases, push diagnoses on patients by their own initiative. The proliferation of the diagnosis of ADHD in adults is the most recent phenomenon of this sort. I have also written about the kneejerk, excessive labelling of patients with the diagnosis of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). This is somewhat related to the phenomenon of ‘cosmetic psychopharmacology’, a term coined by psychiatrist Peter Kramer, atuhor of Listening to Prozac, who wrote of his concerns about the erosion of the boundaries betweeen the legitimate treatment of suffering and the more questionable practice of performance-tweaking with new-generation antidepressants. We should not necessarily use them in all cases where we might use them, where they are capable of having an effect, he might have said. If anything, the practice has only proliferated and the boundaries further eroded in the decade since Kramer raised the hue and cry. (Of course, there are now at least half-a-dozen new-generation antidepressants whose manufacturers are vying for market share, not just Prozac!)

Of course, when it comes to diagnostic practice, the converse is true as well, and I have written about this too. When a clinician who is not astute about his or her own reactions to the patients s/he treats (so-called “countertransference” feelings) takes a dislike to a patient s/he finds disagreeable or unruly, the patient is often given a pejorative personality disorder label, usually borderline personality disorder, while a legitimate mental illness they are suffering may consequently go unrecognized, undiagnosed and untreated.

Perhaps more important, then, than a consensus on the scope and number of official diagnoses would be the thoughtful, systematic application of existing diagnostic criteria to the process of labelling someone with a mental disorder. In fact, only accurate thoughtful diagnosis by experienced clinicians willing and able to avoid labelling someone on the basis of intuitive gut reactions (or other influences such as the marketing pressures from the pharmaceutical reps who visited them in the preceding week) will be the stepping stone on whose back we can begin to refine the diagnostic process and categories reasonably. I am at a loss as to how that might happen in time for the next edition of the DSM, which will guide at least the next decade of treatment (and funding of treatment) in mental health.

How to Get Rid of a Gun

“Elizabeth’s brother was gone now, and she wanted the handguns gone, too — put out of commission. The collection wasn’t her idea of a keepsake. I wasn’t really interested in them, either. True, I’d been to the indoor shooting range over the years — with my own brother and with friends — and each time I enjoyed it. It made me shaky with excitement, and scared, like looking over the edge of a tall bridge. But this wasn’t on my mind at the time. I promised Elizabeth that I’d get rid of them.” (New York Times Magazine)

‘Now justify it!’

Ministers were told of need for Gulf war ‘excuse’: “Ministers were warned in July 2002 that Britain was committed to taking part in an American-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a way of making it legal.

The warning, in a leaked Cabinet Office briefing paper, said Tony Blair had already agreed to back military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a summit at the Texas ranch of President George W Bush three months earlier.” (Times of London)

The memo itself can be read here (Times of London).

The Heretik has a round-up of those already writing about the issue here.

War on Terror Dominates Talks Given at Graduations

This year’s college graduates (except for those who, like myself, took time off during their undergraduate years… not a common thing any longer, I’m afraid) are the first to have gone through college in a post-9/11 world, as many commencement speakers are fond of pointing out. A friend, who sent me to this article, commented that what had in years past been one of his favorite New York Times features, once “a satisfying display of the broad spectrum of thought and idea and intellectual achievement in this country”, has become “a sad recap” of our sad state.

But there is this, from James McBride, an author and jazz musician who addressed Pratt University graduates, which my friend found to be the saving grace [thanks, abby]:

“If I were 21 I would walk the earth. I would go barefoot longer; I’d learn how to throw a Frisbee, I’d go braless if I were a woman and I would wear no underwear if I were a man. I’d play cards and wear the same pair of jeans until they were so stiff they could get up and strut around the room by themselves. … So don’t take the short road. Fool around. Have fun. … You’re not going to get this time back. Don’t panic and go to graduate school and law school. This nation has enough frightened, dissatisfied yuppies living in gated communities, driving S.U.V.’s and wondering where their youth went.

We need you to walk the earth, so that other nations can see the beauty of American youth, rather than seeing our young in combat fatigues behind the barrel of an M-16.”

Nerve Agent Spills at Indiana Facility

“About 30 gallons of a liquid containing a deadly Cold War-era nerve agent spilled at an Indiana chemical weapons depot, but it was safely contained in a sealed area and no one was injured, the Army said Saturday.

The spill occurred Friday night at the Newport Chemical Agent Destruction Facility, where more than 250,000 gallons of the agent VX are stored. VX is a liquid with the consistency of mineral oil that can kill a healthy adult with a single pinpoint droplet.” (Yahoo! News)

Funny, just today I picked up and started reading Murakami’s Underground, about the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway.

Pink Floyd to reform for London Live 8 concert

“Four members of seminal British rock band Pink Floyd will play together for the first time in 24 years at London’s Live 8 charity concert for Africa on July 2, publicists for the event said on Sunday.

Guitarist David Gilmour, drummer Nick Mason and keyboard player Richard Wright will be on stage with bassist Roger Waters for their first public performance since they played at London’s Earls Court in 1981.” (Reuters)

First Cream, now Pink Floyd. Now, if only the Bonzo Dog Band

‘Now justify it!’

Ministers were told of need for Gulf war ‘excuse’: “Ministers were warned in July 2002 that Britain was committed to taking part in an American-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a way of making it legal.

The warning, in a leaked Cabinet Office briefing paper, said Tony Blair had already agreed to back military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a summit at the Texas ranch of President George W Bush three months earlier.” (Times of London)

The memo itself can be read here (Times of London).

The Heretik has a round-up of those already writing about the issue here.

The machine that can copy anything

…including itself: “A revolutionary machine that can copy itself and manufacture everyday objects quickly and cheaply could transform industry in the developing world, according to its creator.

The ‘self-replicating rapid prototyper,’ or ‘RepRap’ is the brainchild of Dr. Adrian Bowyer, a senior lecturer in mechanical engineering at the University of Bath in the UK.

It is based on rapid prototyping technology commonly used to manufacturer plastic components in industry from computer-generated blueprints — effectively a form of 3D printer.” (CNN)


Page hits at FmH Wednesday and Thursday are down to about half the average daily numbers. Is my content more boring than usual or have readers had trouble accessing the site? or should I simply stop looking at the statistics? What-Me-Worry?

Poetry is finding fans – even cash

“Watching TV, playing computer games, surfing the Net – popular American pastimes. Along with poetry. Poetry?

Yes, poetry, that most rarefied of literary endeavors, is hot – hotter than ever, in fact – especially among young people.

Poetry readings, poetry slams, and spoken-word performances attract sellout crowds in clubs and auditoriums locally and across the country.

Poetry anthologies and audio collections are selling briskly. And the weekly HBO program Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry is entering its fifth season.” ( [requires free registration])

Memorial museums: cabinets of misery

“There is an unhealthy obsession with showcasing the dark side of history

Museums that document trauma and conflict have proliferated across the globe in the past decade, and more are planned. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights will showcase atrocities endured by groups that have made their home in Canada, and is due to open in 2009. In Thailand there is talk of building a memorial museum documenting the damage caused by last year’s tsunami, and a museum has been proposed to display the atrocities of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

The Robben Island Museum in South Africa and the genocide museums outside Kigali in Rwanda have achieved international renown. In the USA, holocaust museums have proliferated – the best known is the Washington Holocaust Museum.

This mania for memorial museums is a sign of a society with an unhealthy obsession. These new museums indicate a desire to elevate the worst aspects of mankind’s history as a way to understand humanity today. Our pessimism-tinted spectacles distort how we interpret the past.

These museums tend to downplay historical exhibits, since the aim is to make yesterday’s conflicts relevant to today. The Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam asks visitors where they stand on the contemporary threat of the far right in Europe, and the question of racism in football. The Beit Hashoah Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles transforms the history of the Holocaust into a discussion about everyday intolerance. It is suggested that there is a slippery slope between shouting and shoving, and world wars. Audiences are lectured that ‘the potential of violence is within us all’.” — Tiffany Jenkins (spiked)

[Image 'neuman.jpg' cannot be displayed]Spiked seems to have set itself up as the gainsayer par excellence on doom and gloom. I recall last year’s series of articles about how we worry too much about world affairs and the potential for disaster, and that it is a matter of changing cultural norms to reduce global angst. I thought this was the sort of ‘What-Me-Worry?’ sentiment that has been lampooned for decades. (It has taken on uncanny new significance given the remarkable resemblance of George W. Bush and Alfred E. Neuman…) Now a Spiked contributor is arguing that we should divert our eyes from the mass outbreaks of human tragedy, misery and atrocity of the past so as not to become too tainted or cynical about humanity. Of course I am one to bridle at that suggestion, since my cynicism is one of my strongest attributes. But when it comes to what I call the ‘ostrich mode’ (the notion that sticking one’s head in the sand and not seeing looming threats makes them go away) of historiography, who are you gonna believe, Tiffany Jenkins or George Santayana?

The problem I have with memorial museums is not so much that they keep our eyes open to the horrors of the past as that they glorify misery and solidify communities’ identities as victims, only victims and nothing more. As important as who is putting these museums up is who is going to them and what sentiments they indulge in.

As to the article’s criticism of the implied relationship between ordinary rudeness and the capacity to commit atrocities, I think that the everyday encounters with our capacity for hostility are precisely what civilizes us and holds our worst impulses in check. Emphasizing, not avoiding, that equation is uimmensely useful. The idea that “I couldn’t do that, not me” is a comforting and dangerous fiction, as we have known at least since the disturbing Stanley Milgram experiments illustrating how many would have made good Nazis given the circumstances. Certainly, cultural influences and the pronouncements of political and social leaders can shape a community’s aggressive urges in either permissive or restrictive ways. Just to cite two examples from my own recent experience:

  • Yesterday, I asked an Israeli friend living in the US and just back from her annual visit home what effects she was seeing from the change in Palestinian leadership in comparison to last year. She observed that hopefulness is in a way a self-fulfilling prophecy with immediate effects. The intifada is ramping down, and she is seeing more efforts at fellowship between Arab and Jewish communities, a strengthening of the peace community, and, from her vantage point, immediate gains in the sense of safety of Jews in mixing with their Arab neighbors. (Of course, the proof of the the pudding is whether it works the other way as well.)
  • In inpatient psychiatry, assaultive patients in need of physical control have often provoked a, shall we say, overly vigorous response from mental health staffs angered and frightened by assaults or threats against them. Some of us have been looking at what it takes to go to a “restraint-free” environment on inpatient units without commensurate losses in safety. If one compares psychiatric units that have successfully achieved the elimination of physical restraints which those that still utilize this tactic, one gets the impression that, more than anything else, the difference comes down to little more than having the political will to change the prevailing culture on the part of the leadership.

Shock Mom and Dad:

Become a Neo-Nazis: “German young people, faced with liberal parents who are tolerant about sex, drugs and rock and roll, are increasingly rebelling by turning to right-wing extremism. Neo-nazi fashion, music and ideology have become an ever important part of German youth culture.” (Der Spiegel)

Spin Doctored

How drug companies keep tabs on physicians: “Doctors have long maintained that they are immune to the blandishments of drug companies. The lucrative consulting contracts, fancy meals, trips to exotic locales, free pens, flashlights, coffee mugs, and sticky notepads emblazoned with prescription-drug brand names—none of these are supposed to cloud a physician’s clinical judgment. Doctors like to think they decide which treatments to order and which drugs to prescribe because of scientific evidence, not marketing.

But the companies think they know otherwise. Last week, five whistle-blowers from government and industry gathered in Washington, D.C., at a meeting sponsored by the online scientific journal PLoS and the Government Accountability Project to discuss the pharmaceutical industry. Among the attendees were Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau, a former drug company representative and independent filmmaker, and an unnamed drug company researcher. They detailed for the group how the companies and the reps know—right down to the pill—whether or not their sales pitches are working and how to improve them. The industry’s semi-secret weapon is prescriber reports, weekly lists of every prescription written by each of the 600,000 doctors in the United States. Relatively few physicians know about prescriber reports, also known as prescriber profiles. But their existence makes it far more difficult to imagine that pharmaceutical marketing has no effect on the doctors it targets.” (Slate)

Psst! This Stuff Keeps You Young…

…but It’s Illegal: “Called by dermatologists one of the most effective filters of all wavelengths of ultraviolet light, Mexoryl has been used in sunscreen lotions sold in Canada and Europe for more than a decade. But the Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved it… Though the F.D.A. does not track down and prosecute those consumers, the purchases are technically illegal.” (New York Times )

New suspect implicated in the development of cancer

“Tiny slugs of RNA dismissed until five years ago as genetic detritus now look as though they may play an important role in the development of human cancer.

Already, “microRNA” molecules – which differ from ordinary messenger RNA in not carrying information for making proteins – are emerging as key gene switches regulating embryo development and cell replication. Now, three papers published this week in Nature provide the strongest evidence yet that mis-regulation of microRNAs might trigger development of cancers.” (New Scientist)

Researchers Say Intelligence and Diseases May Be Linked in Ashkenazic Genes

“A team of scientists at the University of Utah has proposed that the unusual pattern of genetic diseases seen among Jews of central or northern European origin, or Ashkenazim, is the result of natural selection for enhanced intellectual ability.

The selective force was the restriction of Ashkenazim in medieval Europe to occupations that required more than usual mental agility, the researchers say in a paper that has been accepted by the Journal of Biosocial Science, published by Cambridge University Press in England.

The hypothesis advanced by the Utah researchers has drawn a mixed reaction among scientists, some of whom dismissed it as extremely implausible, while others said they had made an interesting case, although one liable to raise many hackles.” (New York Times)

Carter Says U.S. Should Close Detention Center at Guant?namo

“‘Despite President George W. Bush’s bold reminder that America is determined to promote freedom and democracy around the world, the U.S. continues to suffer terrible embarrassment and a blow to our reputation as a champion of human rights because of reports concerning abuses of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guant?namo,’ Mr. Carter said in a news conference following a two-day human rights conference at the Carter Center in Atlanta.” — Jimmy Carter (New York Times )

More people consult Google over health

“…(T)he internet search engine has now become one of the patient’s best friends, second only to the family doctor.

A survey of 1,000 people found that 12 per cent turn first to Google. Fewer consult family and friends, the media or medical encyclopaedias when faced with a medical problem. The internet is consulted by 21 per cent as the first port of call. Some use search engines other than Google and some log on directly to other websites.

Although more — 52 per cent — would see a GP first, the survey shows how important the internet is in informing patients. Friends and family, a traditional source of guidance, were cited by 10 per cent.” (Times of London [thanks, Paul])

And here’s the pitiful part:

“Most Googlers believe that the information they find is accurate. While 94 per cent trust their GP, nearly as many (86 per cent) believe that what they find from a Google search is accurate.”

As the article goes on to point out, most self-diagnosis is a waste of time. I am not so concerned with the objection that it ‘slows down consultations’ (since by far the greater fault of physicians is that they do not take enough time to address their patients’ concerns and educate them to the extent necessary to make them better informed healthcare consumers) but rather that would-be patients may easily become convinced they have conditions they do not. Even some of the best medically educated among us are prone to that; every medical student is cautioned about ‘medical student syndrome’, in which studying a disease convinces one that one has the disease. The lay public have no defense against that when the information, even if it is not egregious misinformation, comes from the net.

Censorship Politics on the Web

While doing a google search on an unrelated topic, I happened upon this long-forgotten evidence of my 1989 web presence. It’s a dump of a 1989 bulletin board discussion I got into, and I think got backed into a corner on, on issues of web censorship. I think yo might find it interesting. I probably wouldn’t get as bent out of shape about these days, but I can’t be sure. Was the analogy I drew to swastika graffiti on a synagogue wall a reasonable one? It may be an even more pertinent question today than it was in 1989, because the internet is a much larger ‘virtual wall’ on which graffiti will be in a much greater number of people’s faces. I later got into a verbal tussle over similar censorship issues with renowned weblogger (and one of my initial boosters when FmH appeared) Jorn Barger, who was at one point a virtual pariah with a large number of netizens for the appearance of anti-Semitism.

Awaken the Mainstream Media

Daily Kos: “This series of diaries aims to lift the virtual news blackout in the US on the Downing Street Minutes. We’re trying to unite the strength of DSM coalitions for a targeted campaign. For a full month many of us here at dKos as well as other web-based activists (such as FAIR, MoveOn, and the Big Brass Alliance of bloggers) have been appealing for greater coverage of DSM by the news media, but with only limited success. We will need to focus, coordinate, and sustain our efforts if we wish to get their attention.

Therefore every weekday this month I will post a diary listing three news outlets. Please email or call all three on that day requesting politely that they report on DSM.”

The Backbone Campaign

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“Please join us in sending Spine postcards to your Senators and members of Congress to let them know they should join the Inquiry into the Downing Steet Minutes/Memo. You can click here to download a pdf file that can be printed on cardstock or other paper and sent to you members of congress.”