Happy Samhain

Lucifer, the main protagonist of Paradise Lost...A reprise of my annual Halloween post:

It is that time of year again. What has become a time of disinhibited hijinx and mayhem, and a growing marketing bonanza for the kitsch-manufacturers and -importers, has primeval origins as the Celtic New Year’s Eve, Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”). The harvest is over, summer ends and winter begins, the Old God dies and returns to the Land of the Dead to await his rebirth at Yule, and the land is cast into darkness. The veil separating the worlds of the living and the dead becomes frayed and thin, and dispossessed dead mingle with the living, perhaps seeking a body to possess for the next year as their only chance to remain connected with the living, who hope to scare them away with ghoulish costumes and behavior, escape their menace by masquerading as one of them, or placate them with offerings of food, in hopes that they will go away before the new year comes. For those prepared, a journey to the other side could be made at this time. It is fortunate that Hallowe’en falls on a Friday this year, as there is evidence that the pagan festival was celebrated for three days.

With Christianity, perhaps because with calendar reform it was no longer the last day of the year, All Hallows’ Eve became decathected, a day for innocent masquerading and fun, taking its name Hallowe’en as a contraction and corruption of All Hallows’ Eve. All Saints’ Day may have originated in its modern form with the 8th century Pope Gregory III. Hallowe’en customs reputedly came to the New World with the Irish immigrants of the 1840’s. The prominence of trick-or-treating has a slightly different origin, however.

The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes,” made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul’s passage to heaven.

Jack-o’-lanterns were reportedly originally turnips; the Irish began using pumpkins after they immigrated to North AMerica, given how plentiful they were here.

The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.

Folk traditions that were in the past associated wtih All Hallows’ Eve took much of their power, as with the New Year’s customs about which I write here every Dec. 31st, from the magic of boundary states, transition and liminality.

The idea behind ducking, dooking or bobbing for apples seems to have been that snatching a bite from the apple enables the person to grasp good fortune. Samhain is a time for getting rid of weakness, as pagans once slaughtered weak animals which were unlikely to survive the winter. A common ritual calls for writing down weaknesses on a piece of paper or parchment, and tossing it into the fire. There used to be a custom of placing a stone in the hot ashes of the bonfire. If in the morning a person found that the stone had been removed or had cracked, it was a sign of bad fortune. Nuts have been used for divination: whether they burned quietly or exploded indicated good or bad luck. Peeling an apple and throwing the peel over one’s shoulder was supposed to reveal the initial of one’s future spouse. One way of looking for omens of death was for peope to visit churchyards

The Witches’ Sabbath aspect of Hallowe’en seems to result from Germanic influence, and fusion with the notion of Walpurgisnacht. (Who knows the magnificent musical evocation of this, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bare Mountain?) Although probably not yet in a position to shape mainstream American Hallowe’en traditions, Mexican Dia de los Muertos observances have started to contribute some delightful and whimsical iconography to our encounter with the eerie and unearthly as well.

What was Hallowe’en like forty or fifty years ago in the U.S. when, bastardized as it has become with respect to its pagan origins, it retained a much more traditional flair? For my purposes, suffice it to say that it was before the era of the pay-per-view ‘spooky-world’ type haunted attractions and its Martha Stewart yuppification with, as this irreverent Salon article from last year [via walker] puts it, monogrammed jack-o’-lanterns and the like. Related, a 1984 essay by Richard Seltzer, frequently referenced in other sources, entitled “Why Bother to Save Halloween?”, argues as I do that reverence for Halowe’en is good for the soul.

“Maybe at one time Halloween helped exorcise fears of death and ghosts and goblins by making fun of them. Maybe, too, in a time of rigidly prescribed social behavior, Halloween was the occasion for socially condoned mischief — a time for misrule and letting loose. Although such elements still remain, the emphasis has shifted and the importance of the day and its rituals has actually grown.

…(D)on’t just abandon a tradition that you yourself loved as a child, that your own children look forward to months in advance, and that helps preserve our sense of fellowship and community with our neighbors in the midst of all this madness.”

That would be anathema to certain segments of society, however. Halloween certainly inspires a backlash by fundamentalists who consider it a blasphemous abomination. ‘Amateur scholar’ Isaac Bonewits details academically the Halloween errors and lies he feels contribute to its being reviled. Some of the panic over Hallowe’en is akin to the hysteria, fortunately now debunked, over the supposed epidemic of ‘ritual Satanic abuse’ that swept the Western world in the ’90’s.

The horror film has become inextricably linked to Hallowe’en tradition, although the holiday itself did not figure in the movies until John Carpenter took the slasher genre singlehandedly by storm. Googling “scariest films”, you will, grimly, reap a mother lode of opinions about how to pierce the veil to journey to the netherworld and reconnect with that magical, eerie creepiness in the dark (if not the over-the-top blood and gore that has largely replaced the subtlety of earlier horror films).

In any case: trick or treat!



R.I.P. Merl Saunders

Jazz and Rock Keyboardist Dies at 74: “Mr. Saunders made some of his most notable music in the 1960s and ’70s when he teamed up with Garcia, the Grateful Dead’s lead guitarist and singer. The Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders Band recorded two albums in the 1970s, and the two played together on an array of projects until Garcia’s death in 1995.” (New York Times obituary)

News Orgs Investigate Possibly Fatal McCain ’64 Car Crash

“For the past two months, a major American magazine and an allied news service have been engaged in a legal battle with the United States Navy over records that they believe show that John McCain once was involved in an automobile accident that injured or, perhaps, killed another individual.

Vanity Fair magazine and the National Security News Service claim to have knowledge “developed from first-hand sources” of a car crash that involved then-Lt. McCain at the main gate of a Virginia naval base in 1964, according to legal filings. The incident has been largely, if not entirely, kept from the public. And in documents suing the Navy to release pertinent information, lawyers for the NS News Service allege that a cover-up may be at play.” — Sam Stein (Huffington Post)


Halloween Sky Show

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“Stop! Take your finger off that doorbell. Something spooky is happening behind your back. Turn around, tip back your mask, and behold the sunset.

It’s a Halloween sky show.

On Oct. 31st, the crescent Moon will sneak up on Venus for a close encounter of startling beauty. The gathering is best seen just after sunset when the twilight is pumpkin-orange and Halloween doorbells are chiming in earnest. Venus hovers just above the southwestern horizon, the brightest light in the sky, while the exquisitely slender Moon approaches just a few degrees below…” (NASA)


Never Say Die:

Why Can’t We Imagine Death? “The common view of death as a great mystery usually is brushed aside as an emotionally fueled desire to believe that death isn’t the end of the road. And indeed, a prominent school of research in social psychology called terror management theory contends that afterlife beliefs, as well as less obvious beliefs, behaviors and attitudes, exist to assuage what would otherwise be crippling anxiety about the ego’s inexistence.

According to proponents, you possess a secret arsenal of psychological defenses designed to keep your death anxiety at bay (and to keep you from ending up in the fetal position listening to Nick Drake on your iPod). My writing this article, for example, would be interpreted as an exercise in “symbolic immortality”; terror management theorists would likely tell you that I wrote it for posterity, to enable a concrete set of my ephemeral ideas to outlive me, the biological organism. (I would tell you that I’d be happy enough if a year from now it still had a faint pulse.)

Yet a small number of researchers, including me, are increasingly arguing that the evolution of self-consciousness has posed a different kind of problem altogether. This position holds that our ancestors suffered the unshakable illusion that their minds were immortal, and it’s this hiccup of gross irrationality that we have unmistakably inherited from them. Individual human beings, by virtue of their evolved cognitive architecture, had trouble conceptualizing their own psychological inexistence from the start.” (Scientific American Mind)


Are You Evil? Profiling That Which is Truly Wicked

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“I thought it would be interesting to come up with formal structures that define evil, and, ultimately, to create a purely evil character the way a creative writer would…”

“The hallowed halls of academia are not the place you would expect to find someone obsessed with evil (although some students might disagree). But it is indeed evil—or rather trying to get to the roots of evil—that fascinates Selmer Bringsjord, a logician, philosopher and chairman of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Department of Cognitive Science here. He’s so intrigued, in fact, that he has developed a sort of checklist for determining whether someone is demonic, and is working with a team of graduate students to create a computerized representation of a purely sinister person.” (Scientific American)
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Five Fallacies of Grief

Debunking Psychological Stages: “Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

So annealed into pop culture are the five stages of grief—introduced in the 1960s by Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross based on her studies of the emotional state of dying patients—that they are regularly referenced without explication.

There appears to be no evidence, however, that most people most of the time go through most of the stages in this or any other order. According to Russell P. Friedman, executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute in Sherman Oaks, Calif. (www.grief-recovery.com), and co-author, with John W. James, of The Grief Recovery Handbook (HarperCollins, 1998), “no study has ever established that stages of grief actually exist, and what are defined as such can’t be called stages. Grief is the normal and natural emotional response to loss…. No matter how much people want to create simple, bullet-point guidelines for the human emotions of grief, there are no stages of grief that fit any two people or relationships.”” (Scientific American)


How these gibbering numbskulls came to dominate Washington

Peter Sellers as President Merkin Muffley in Dr.Peter Sellers as President Merkin Muffley

“The degradation of intelligence and learning in American politics results from a series of interlocking tragedies…”

How did politics in the US come to be dominated by people who make a virtue out of ignorance? Was it charity that has permitted mankind’s closest living relative to spend two terms as president? How did Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle and other such gibbering numbskulls get to where they are? How could Republican rallies in 2008 be drowned out by screaming ignoramuses insisting that Barack Obama was a Muslim and a terrorist?

Like most people on my side of the Atlantic, I have for many years been mystified by American politics. The US has the world’s best universities and attracts the world’s finest minds. It dominates discoveries in science and medicine. Its wealth and power depend on the application of knowledge. Yet, uniquely among the developed nations (with the possible exception of Australia), learning is a grave political disadvantage.

There have been exceptions over the past century – Franklin Roosevelt, JF Kennedy and Bill Clinton tempered their intellectualism with the common touch and survived – but Adlai Stevenson, Al Gore and John Kerry were successfully tarred by their opponents as members of a cerebral elite (as if this were not a qualification for the presidency). Perhaps the defining moment in the collapse of intelligent politics was Ronald Reagan‘s response to Jimmy Carter during the 1980 presidential debate. Carter – stumbling a little, using long words – carefully enumerated the benefits of national health insurance. Reagan smiled and said: “There you go again.” His own health programme would have appalled most Americans, had he explained it as carefully as Carter had done, but he had found a formula for avoiding tough political issues and making his opponents look like wonks.” — George Monbiot (Guardian.UK)


In Case You Weren’t Scared Enough:

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Palin on “Fruit Fly Research”: “Here’s the excerpt from the speech:

“Where does a lot of that earmark money end up, anyway? […] You’ve heard about, um, these — some of these pet projects they really don’t make a whole lot of sense, and sometimes these dollars they go to projects having little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not!”

It’s hard to know where to begin deconstructing this statement. This was a speech on autism, and Palin’s critics have pounced on the fact that a recent study of Drosophila fruit flies showed that a protein called neurexin is essential for proper neurological function — a discovery with clear implications for autism research.

Awkward! But this critique merely scrapes icing off the cake.

Fruit flies are more than just the occasional vehicles for research relevant to human disabilities. They are literally the foundation of modern genetics, the original model organism that has enabled us to discover so much of what we know about heredity, genome structure, congenital disorders, and (yes) evolution. So for Palin to state that “fruit fly research” has “little or nothing to do with the public good” is not just wrong — it’s mind-boggling.

What else does this blunder say about Palin and her candidacy? Many people have used it as just another opportunity to call her a dummy, since anyone who has stayed awake through even a portion of a high-school-level biology class knows what fruit flies are good for. But leave that aside for a second. Watch the clip. Listen to the tone of her voice as she sneers the words “fruit fly research.” Check out the disdain and incredulity on her face. How would science, basic or applied, fare under President Palin?

We have other questions. Who wrote this speech? Was he or she as ignorant as Palin about the central role that fruit flies have played in the last century of biomedical research? Or was this a calculated slight to science and scientists — a coded way of saying, “We don’t care what you know or what you think”? We find it odd that, of all the examples of dubious expenditures of public funds, the speechwriters alighted on this one.” — Palmer and Pringle (HuffPo)



anti-telemarketing EGBG counterscript

Telemarketing agent sitting in a cubicle. The ...Telemarketing agent sitting in a cubicle. The
brightly colored rebuttal sheets are used to answer
most questions a customer might have.

“The Direct Marketing sector regards the telephone as one of its most successful tools. Consumers experience telemarketing from a completely different point of view: more than 92% perceive commercial telephone calls as a violation of privacy.

Telemarketers make use of a telescript – a guideline for a telephone conversation. This script creates an imbalance in the conversation between the marketer and the consumer. It is this imbalance, most of all, that makes telemarketing successful. The EGBG Counterscript attempts to redress that balance.

Good luck!”



Running the Numbers

An American self-portrait by artist Chris Jordan: “Running the Numbers looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month.

This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the role of the individual in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming.” (thanks, seth)


Diagnosing Your Dancing Style

Mohammed Gulman (R) ...

“What does the way you dance say about you? Or more specifically, what does it reveal about the quality of your genes – your ‘fitness’ as a potential mate?

It’s a question that’s obsessing cognitive psychologist Dr Peter Lovatt and his team at the University of Hertfordshire. But now he thinks he’s come up with the perfect experiment to test the links between genes, physical attraction and dance.

If you want to take part in the survey, watch the video to assess your own style of dancing and then click on the link to fill in a simple questionaire. At the very least you should be able to pick up a few pointers that could help with your technique.” (BBC)


Flunking Spore

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John Bohannon: “…over the past month, I’ve been playing Spore with a team of scientists, grading the game on each of its scientific themes. When it comes to biology, and particularly evolution, Spore failed miserably. According to the scientists, the problem isn’t just that Spore dumbs down the science or gets a few things wrong–it’s meant to be a game, after all–but rather, it gets most of biology badly, needlessly, and often bizarrely wrong. I also tracked down the scientists who appeared on television in what seemed like an endorsement of Spore’s scientific content on the National Geographic channel. They said they had been led to believe that the interviews were for a straight documentary about ‘developmental evolutionary’ science rather than a video promoting a computer game (see the news story in Science’s 24 October issue). ‘I was used,’ says Neil Shubin, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois, who worries that science has been ‘hijacked’ to promote a product. How did things go so wrong for a game that seemed so good?” (Bohannon, Science 322 (5901): 531b)

Mars pioneers should stay there permanently, says Buzz Aldrin

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“The first astronauts sent to Mars should be prepared to spend the rest of their lives there, in the same way that European pioneers headed to America knowing they would not return home, says moonwalker Buzz Aldrin.

In an interview with AFP, the second man to set foot on the Moon said the Red Planet offered far greater potential than Earth’s satellite as a place for habitation.” (PhysOrg)


Creeping towards mainstream consciousness?

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I was recently pointed toward The Way Things Break, a weblog which seems to be grappling with how to educate the public about climate change, eco-disaster and related topics.What struck me was how devoid of historical context some of these Young Turks appear to be, acting as if they are the first generation with such insights. Hasn’t anyone ever heard of The Limits to Growth? or, as a matter of fact, Thomas Malthus?


Palin going rogue?

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Palin allies report rising campaign tension: “Four Republicans close to Palin said she has decided increasingly to disregard the advice of the former Bush aides tasked to handle her, creating occasionally tense situations as she travels the country with them. Those Palin supporters, inside the campaign and out, said Palin blames her handlers for a botched rollout and a tarnished public image — even as others in McCain’s camp blame the pick of the relatively inexperienced Alaska governor, and her public performance, for McCain’s decline.”

Palin going rogue?

Republican vice-pres...

Palin allies report rising campaign tension: “Four Republicans close to Palin said she has decided increasingly to disregard the advice of the former Bush aides tasked to handle her, creating occasionally tense situations as she travels the country with them. Those Palin supporters, inside the campaign and out, said Palin blames her handlers for a botched rollout and a tarnished public image — even as others in McCain’s camp blame the pick of the relatively inexperienced Alaska governor, and her public performance, for McCain’s decline.”

U.S. Doctors Regularly Prescribe Real Drugs As Placebo Treatments, Study Claims

Prescription placebos used in research and pra...

“Many rheumatologists and general internal medicine physicians in the US say they regularly prescribe ‘placebo treatments’ including active drugs such as sedatives and antibiotics, but rarely admit they are doing so to their patients, according to a study on bmj.com.

The use of placebo treatments in clinical practice has been widely criticised because it is claimed that the practice by its very nature is deceptive and therefore violates patients’ autonomy. But advocates of placebo treatments argue that they could offer effective treatment for many chronic conditions without necessarily deceiving patients. Despite the controversy, to date there has been little data on doctors’ attitudes towards and the use of placebo treatments in the US.” (Science Daily)

The only people bent out of shape by this are those unsophisticated physicians who can believe only in the concrete and materialistic explanations for how they ‘heal’. Most of medicine mobilizes patients’ healing resources through symbolism, ritual and enlistment into a belief system. That’s why I have such a hard time with the (equally concrete) critics of Western allopathic medicine. It is not that they offend me by not believing in what I do, but rather that they undermine the power of belief which is the basis of how physicians heal. In short, most treatment is probably mediated by the placebo response. Patients inherently give up their autonomy by consulting a health professional, and treatment will not work without an element of faith on their part.



The science of head shrinking

Certainly one of my preoccupations, given that I am a ‘head shrinker‘. This article reviews both technique and reveals much about the complex of social custom and ritual around ‘head shrinking’. But in this case, we are not talking about the practice of psychiatry, but the real thing, which occurs in the aftermath of tribal warfare and revenge among the South American Jivaro-Shuar. (Journal of Neurosurgery via Very Short List)


Palin says she considers herself intellectual

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‘…You betcha! “And you have to be up on not only current events, but you have to understand the foundation of the issues that you’re working on,” Palin said in an interview with People magazine. “You can’t just go on what is presented you.”

Although Palin didn’t name a single newspaper or magazine when CBS News anchor Katie Couric asked where she got her information, the Alaska governor told People that she has always been a “voracious reader” and named reading _ anything from biographies to historical works _ as her favorite thing along with her children and sports.

Besides author Lawrence Wright’s terrorism history, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Palin said she’s reading a lot of briefing papers.

“I appreciate a lot of information. I think that comes from growing up in a family of school teachers,” she said.

Palin said if she and husband Todd had had a sixth child, they had already picked a name for a boy joining siblings Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig. “I always wanted a son named Zamboni,” she said.’ (Washington Post)


Climate change and the Price of Beer?

Beer wallFancy a swift twother? Britain’s National Weights and Measures Laboratory proposes a new standard measure for a tipple in British pubs. The twother (a terrible name, IMHO) is two-thirds of a pint, a measure proposed as more appropriate to higher-strength brews and for those who feel that a half pint just isn’t enough but a full pint is too much (like Goldilocks?). Opponents raise a variety of objections, including the fact that drinkers may find it harder to keep track of the number of pints they’ve had (especially once the nmber gets up there, right?). Climate change may accelerate pressure for such a change:

“In Australia the measure already exists and is known as a schooner. It was introduced there because drinkers complained that full pints of beer got too warm in the sunny climate. The weather is not yet a factor in Britain. “

(Times.UK via null device)


The Flag of Earth

“The flag was designed by James Cadle. Prior to the US landing on the moon, there was hope a flag for humanity, rather than the American flag, would be erected on the moon. Some hoped the UN flag would fly, but that never happened.

Some time later, James Cadle, who lived on a farm in rural Illinois, was inspired by this debate to create the Flag of Earth. It is intended to be used for ANY purpose that is representative of Humankind as a whole, and not connected to any country, organization, or individual. James made it his life’s work to promote and distribute this flag everywhere. He and his wife made the flags on their kitchen table, and sold them for what it cost to make and distribute them.

The Flag of Earth is often flown at locations doing SETI work in order to indicate that the search is the “work of humanity and not a specific country or organization.” Cadle died in 2004, but he left the design in the public domain, bless him.

At the Flag of Earth website there are templates for printing them out or purchasing ready-to-fly sown ones.” (via Kevin Kelly)

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“The Flag of Earth has flown – and is flying – over many observatories. The Flag also hangs in the offices of academics, scientists, ham radio operators, and in homes around the world.

Here are some sites where the Flag has been flown.”


TSA Responds to Schneier’s Airport Security Antics

Kip Hawley: “Bruce Schneier and others have raised a number of good issues about TSA’s role in aviation security but veer off course when our work is described as ‘security theater…’” (Evolution of Security)

…and Schneier responds back: “Unfortunately, there’s not really anything to his response. It’s obvious he doesn’t want to admit that they’ve been checking ID’s all this time to no purpose whatsoever, so he just emits vague generalities like a frightened squid filling the water with ink. Yes, some of the stunts in article are silly (who cares if people fly with Hezbollah T-shirts?) so that gives him an opportunity to minimize the real issues.” (Schneier on Security)

The original article (The Atlantic) redux.


Rethinking the American Electorate after an Obama Victory

you have my word“You have my word.”

Lincoln Mitchell: “One of the great things about an Obama victory is that it will force a lot of people to rethink a lot of things. People outside the US who have bought into the appealingly reductive anti-Americanism rhetoric of recent years, will have to rethink some of their basic assumptions about our country. This will be particularly true among those on the European left who may want to stop and ask themselves what it tells them about the US, and their own countries, that somebody like Barack Obama will be our leader. Others in Europe and elsewhere who perhaps pay less attention to the US will have to rethink their view of the US as a conservative country which likes to elect cowboys and bubbas, as we have in recent years.

Right wingers in the US will have to revisit their assumptions about the inherent racism and conservatism of the American people as well as the power of wedge issues to divide people and lead them to vote on their fears. Emphasizing bizarre issues such as Obama’s acquaintance with Bill Ayers, or calling Obama a socialist because of his notion that tax policy should not simply redistribute wealth upwards, failed to influence more than a few voter this time. This should suggest to the operatives of the right wing that they their cynical understanding of America can be trumped by a more affirming and progressive sentiment in the electorate.

It is, however, the American left which will have to do the most intriguing and challenging rethinking of basic assumptions when Obama wins. For years now a central piece of the progressive worldview is that progressives are enlightened Americans in a sea of their ignorant, bigoted and narrow-minded compatriots. If you don’t believe my assertion, see how many times in the comments section of a progressive blog, Americans voters are referred to as ignorant or uninformed, or eavesdrop at any progressive coffee shop or other hangout. Opposition to progressive causes is often explained away by saying that Americans are bigots, or somehow stupid. This demonstrates an ugly contempt for voters, and in fact for democracy, that should have no place in progressive politics.

Nonetheless, this feeling of specialness is a central part of progressive identity for many. For example, the tone often used to express disbelief that Obama could win, particularly early in this campaign, was often a mixture of anger with racism and a sense of self-righteousness from the speaker for being above that racism.

November 4th will almost certainly show these beliefs to be the nonsense that they are.” (HuffPo)


Warning: In Case of Terrorist attack, do not discard brain.

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“With Barack Obama so far ahead in the polls some people are getting worried that this election cycle’s October surprise will be a terrorist attack. There was, after all, the 2004 Madrid train bombings and Osama Bin Laden did personally intervene in the last US presidential election.

So this week’s comic is a friendly reminder: keep your brain running at all times. When you switch it off bad things happen.” (Miscellanea via boing boing)


The Undecided

David Sedaris at a talk in Ontario.

David Sedaris: “To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.” (The New Yorker)


Wired Magazine Suggests Bloggers Give Up the Fight

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Amit Agarwal: “The current issue of Wired Magazine carries some provocative advice for bloggers – shut down your blogs and take refuge in places like Twitter, Flickr or YouTube.

The reasoning is that stand-alone bloggers can’t keep up with a team of pro writers, like Engadget or The Huffington Post, who crank out up to 30 posts a day.” (Digital Inspiration)

Yes, but that’s not why we weblog…



Over to You, Joe

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Lieberman, Palin, and Democrats: “Lieberman’s future is partly a question of math — as in, will Democrats win enough Senate seats to gain a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority, and if they do, will Lieberman represent that 60th vote? But it’s also partly a question of clubby intangibles inside the Senate. The guy may have irritated a lot of liberals in 2008, and even a lot of Democrats in the Senate, but he’s been on Capitol Hill for 20 years, and, although people may wish they could forget it now, he was on the party’s national ticket in 2000. In the end, how far will longtime friends want to push him to hold him accountable for supporting McCain?” (Salon)

Related (Think Progress)


The Big Necessity

Manure, a field in Randers in DenmarkManure, a field in Randers in Denmark

“The story of civilization has been the story of separating you from your waste. British investigative journalist Rose George’s stunning—and nauseating—new book opens by explaining that a single gram of feces can contain ‘ten million viruses, one million bacteria, one thousand parasite cysts, and one hundred worm eggs.’ Accidentally ingesting this cocktail causes 80 percent of all the sickness on earth.” (Slate)

Happy Birthday, Robert Pinsky

Robert Pinsky, U.S.Robert PinskyPinsky: “The longer I live, the more I see there’s something about reciting rhythmical words aloud — it’s almost biological — that comforts and enlivens human beings.” (via Garrison Keillor)

First Things to Hand
by Robert Pinsky

In the skull kept on the desk.
In the spider-pod in the dust.

Or nowhere. In milkmaids, in loaves,
Or nowhere. And if Socrates leaves

His house in the morning,
When he returns in the evening

He will find Socrates waiting
On the doorstep. Buddha the stick

You use to clear the path,
And Buddha the dog-doo you flick

Away with it, nowhere or in each
Several thing you touch:

The dollar bill, the button
That works the television.

Even in the joke, the three
Words American men say

After making love. Where’s
The remote? In the tears

In things, proximate, intimate.
In the wired stem with root

And leaf nowhere of this lamp:
Brass base, aura of illumination,

Enlightenment, shade of grief.
Odor of the lamp, brazen.

The mind waiting in the mind
As in the first thing to hand.


Dissecting Cindy McCain’s private world

Portrait of Glenn Greenwald -creator of Unclai...Glenn GreenwaldGlenn Greenwald writes in Salon about the New York Times gossip-rag-style profile:

“It’s true that the Right — which built a cottage industry of low-life dirt-peddlers that persists to this day out of sleazily digging into every facet of the Clintons’ private lives, and then became voracious amplifiers of National Enquirer during the Edwards scandal — has very little standing to complain here, since they helped spawn these invasions. And none of this has anything to do specifically with Cindy McCain, since the treatment to which she’s subjected here is, by now, anything but unique (though remarkably little interest was displayed when it came to digging into what was, by all accounts, the rich and ample hedonism of George W. Bush’s pre-“born-again” life).

But it seems rather obvious that there are now basically no journalistic standards left for determining when a political figure’s private life (or even that of their spouse) is “relevant” — apparently, it’s all relevant now, down to the last tawdry detail. In partiuclar, adultery (without regard to whether the spouse consents) is, without any further consideration, a legitimate topic to report. That inevitably has to lead to an even further erosion (if that’s possible) of our political class, a further narrowing of the people willing to enter politics. And the vast disparity between the media resources and attention devoted to sleazy gossip like this versus actual investigation of true government corruption and crime seems to be growing by the day, such that behavior like this will further decay our already quite decadent journalistic class as well.”


Colin Powell Endorses Obama

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“Former Secretary of State Colin Powell announced Sunday that he will be voting for Sen. Barack Obama. ‘He has both style and substance. I think he is a transformational figure,’ Powell said on NBC’s Meet the Press.” (HuffPo)

During the Republican convention, I recall, Powell’s name had been leaked as a leading contender for McCain’s vice presidential pick. The buzz is that, while most endorsements don’t mean squat, this one may well be influential. Newt Gingrich, of all people, says that Powell’s comments pretty much put the end to the “experience gap” issue that has been the dilemma of many undecided voters. And what is perhaps even more telling about Powell’s statement on Meet the Press, often not reported in the soundbites, was his criticism of the bankruptcy of the Republican party.


Dissecting Cindy McCain’s private world

Portrait of Glenn Greenwald -creator of Unclai...Glenn GreenwaldGlenn Greenwald writes in Salon about the New York Times gossip-rag-style profile:

“It’s true that the Right — which built a cottage industry of low-life dirt-peddlers that persists to this day out of sleazily digging into every facet of the Clintons’ private lives, and then became voracious amplifiers of National Enquirer during the Edwards scandal — has very little standing to complain here, since they helped spawn these invasions. And none of this has anything to do specifically with Cindy McCain, since the treatment to which she’s subjected here is, by now, anything but unique (though remarkably little interest was displayed when it came to digging into what was, by all accounts, the rich and ample hedonism of George W. Bush’s pre-“born-again” life).

But it seems rather obvious that there are now basically no journalistic standards left for determining when a political figure’s private life (or even that of their spouse) is “relevant” — apparently, it’s all relevant now, down to the last tawdry detail. In partiuclar, adultery (without regard to whether the spouse consents) is, without any further consideration, a legitimate topic to report. That inevitably has to lead to an even further erosion (if that’s possible) of our political class, a further narrowing of the people willing to enter politics. And the vast disparity between the media resources and attention devoted to sleazy gossip like this versus actual investigation of true government corruption and crime seems to be growing by the day, such that behavior like this will further decay our already quite decadent journalistic class as well.”


Airport security theater Burlesque

An employee of L3...

Via kottke: “We took our shoes off and placed our laptops in bins. Schneier took from his bag a 12-ounce container labeled ‘saline solution.’

‘It’s allowed,’ he said. Medical supplies, such as saline solution for contact-lens cleaning, don’t fall under the TSA‘s three-ounce rule.

‘What’s allowed?’ I asked. ‘Saline solution, or bottles labeled saline solution?’

‘Bottles labeled saline solution. They won’t check what’s in it, trust me.'”

Read the entire thing; very funny, if it were not so sad… (thanks, walker)



Forget impeachment

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Try Bush for murder: Charlotte Dennett is running for Attorney General of the State of Vermont.

If she wins, she will use her office to indict George Bush for the murder of the citizens of Vermont who were killed in his fraudulent war.

You can support her efforts here.” (Current)


Amazon tribe’s protest shuts down dam site

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“Indians from the Enawene Nawe tribe in the Brazilian Amazon occupied and shut down the site of a huge hydroelectric dam on Saturday, destroying equipment, in an attempt to save the river that runs through their land.

The Enawene Nawe say the 77 dams to be built on the River Juruena will pollute the water and stop the fish reaching their spawning grounds. Fish is crucial to the Enawene Nawe’s diet as they do not eat red meat. It also plays a vital part in their rituals.

‘If the fish get sick and die so will the Enawene Nawe,’ said one member of the tribe.” (Survival International via miguel)


Banjo brain surgery

“Surely this must be the greatest headline for a BBC News story ever: Banjo Used in Brain Surgery.

Although the banjo wasn’t in the hands of the surgeons it was still an essential part of the operation. It was played by legendary Blue Grass musician Eddie Adcock who was having surgery install a deep brain stimulation device to treat an essential tremor that had been affecting his playing.

The BBC News story has a video of the neurosurgery and the banjo playing, and it is pure genius. Probably the best thing you’ll see all year.” (Mind Hacks)


Out of the Blue

Seed: Out of the Blue: “Each of its microchips has been programmed to act just like a real neuron in a real brain. The behavior of the computer replicates, with shocking precision, the cellular events unfolding inside a mind. ‘This is the first model of the brain that has been built from the bottom-up,’ says Henry Markram, a neuroscientist at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the director of the Blue Brain project. ‘There are lots of models out there, but this is the only one that is totally biologically accurate. We began with the most basic facts about the brain and just worked from there.'” (Seed)

Mythbusting Dept.

sleep-deprivation is awesome

“…The apparent desire for more shut-eye, together with oft-repeated assertions that our grandparents slept longer, all too easily leads to the conclusion that we in the west are chronically sleep-deprived. Adding to these concerns are recent claims that inadequate sleep causes obesity and related disorders, such as diabetes.

Plus ca change. Claims of widespread sleep deprivation in western society are nothing new – in 1894, the British Medical Journal ran an editorial warning that the ‘hurry and excitement’ of modern life was leading to an epidemic of insomnia.

Even then it probably wasn’t true. The fact is that most adults get enough sleep, and our collective sleep debt, if it exists at all, has not worsened in recent times. Moreover, claims that sleep deprivation is contributing to obesity and diabetes have been overblown. My assertion is that the vast majority of people sleep perfectly adequately. That’s not to say that sleep deprivation doesn’t exist. But in general we’ve never had it so good.” (New Scientist)


The Lazarus sign

The Resurrection of Lazarus  by Vincent van Gogh (after Rembrandt), 1889-90 (Auvers-sur-Oise, Paris).Image via WikipediaThe Resurrection of Lazarus by Vincent van Gogh

A slight return: “Occasionally, brain-dead patients make movements, owing to the fact that the spinal reflexes are still intact. The most complex, and presumably the most terrifying, is called the Lazarus Sign. It is where the brain-dead patient extends their arms and crosses them over their chest – Egyptian mummy style.” (Mind Hacks)

Berkeley Breathed explains why he is ending his comic strip "Opus"

“As the country excitedly awaits our great quadrennial political climax, a smaller subset looks toward the first week of November with great anxiety and dread. On Sunday, Nov. 2, the comic “Opus” will end. Worse yet, creator Berkeley Breathed has made it clear that the strip’s namesake will, in that final strip, find his “final paradise.”

Sure, it’s been an unnaturally long run for a penguin. Opus, who started with a bit part in Breathed’s Pulitzer-winning “Bloom County” (1980-89), starred in “Outland” (1989-95) and finally took center stage in “Opus” (2003-08). But for those of us accustomed to seeing our own thoughts — and fears, hopes and simmering anger — take flight in the broken-nosed face of a penguin every week, there’s no preparation for his exit, only mourning.

Breathed says it’s the anger that led him to close the book on “Opus,” that the increasingly nasty political climate has made it too difficult to keep his strip from drifting into darkness. Breathed has described his work as a hybrid of “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz’s gentle humor and Michael Moore’s crusading social justice. Perhaps losing touch with his inner Charlie Brown, Breathed has said that “a mad penguin, like a mad cartoonist, isn’t very lovable,” and wants Opus to take his final bow before bitterness changes him forever.” (Salon)


The Cognition and Language Laboratory

Diagram of human brain showing surface gyri an...

The twin research foci of this lab are cognition and language. That is, our primarily interest is in how language is implemented in the human mind. However, as understanding and using language probably involves many mental activities that aren’t strictly linguistic, many experiments delve into other aspects of thinking or cognition.

The CLL conducts experiments via the Web. You may participate by clicking here, see results from previous experiments by clicking here. The experiments are short — some take as little as 2-3 minutes to complete. All are anonymous.”


Autism in the Presidential debate?

Karyotype for trisomy Down syndrome.Karyotype for trisomy Down syndromeSome have balked at McCain’s riff on autism in answer to a debate question about his running mate’s qualifications for the Presidency. Without meaning to cast aspersions on the struggles of having a special needs child, I can’t see its bearing on the skills required to be President; others have found that difficult to understand as well. And I share others’ puzzlement over how having a Downs Syndrome child makes her qualified to understand autism. I would go even further. It would not surprise me, after watching McCain’s comments in the debate, if he is confused about the distinction between the two conditions.

And don’t even get me started on her use of her special needs child to make political points…


Emperor-Without-Clothes Dept.

Charles Ponzi (March 3, 1882–January 18, 1949)...Charles PonziCogent explanation of my sentiments, that the economy is a Ponzi scheme and the bailout only helps the bloodsuckers at the top.

“The worst thing a doctor can do to a critically ill person is gloss over their condition and offer false reassurances. We need to know the realities to make the decisions which will affect our very survival…

…[a] contextual framework for capitalism (markets only allowed to go up variety), globalization, the loss of purchasing power and … the “exponential expansion of debt” which has acted as the worm-ridden foundation of this decade’s bogus “prosperity.” ” (Of Two Minds)


Obesity, Abnormal ‘Reward Circuitry’ In Brain Linked

Structure of dop...dopamine

“Although recent findings suggested that obese individuals may experience less pleasure when eating, and therefore eat more to compensate, this is the first prospective evidence for this relationship… Using brain imaging and chocolate milkshakes, scientists have found that women with weakened ‘reward circuitry’ in their brains are at increased risk of weight gain over time and potential obesity. The risk increases even more for women who also have a gene associated with compromised dopamine signaling in the brain.” (Science Daily)

The God That Failed

Elaborate marble facade of NYSE as seen from t...NYSE facade from Broad and Wall StreetsThe 30-Year Lie of the Market Cult:

“Perhaps the most striking fact revealed by the global financial crash — or rather, by the reaction to it — is the staggering, astonishing, gargantuan amount of money that the governments of the world have at their command.

In just a matter of days, we have seen literally trillions of dollars offered to the financial services sector by national treasuries and central banks across the globe. Britain alone has put $1 trillion at the disposal of the bankers, traders, lenders and speculators; and this has been surpassed by the total package of public money that Washington is shoveling into the financial furnaces of Wall Street and the banks. These radical efforts are being replicated on a slightly smaller scale in France, Germany, Italy, Russia and many other countries.

The effectiveness of this unprecedented transfer of wealth from ordinary citizens to the top tiers of the business world remains to be seen. It will certainly insulate the very rich from the consequences of their own greed and folly and fraud; but it is not at all clear how much these measures will shield the vast majority of people from the catastrophe that has been visited upon them by the elite.” (Empire Burlesque)


Will globalization be reversed?

Anti-globalisation protesters in Edinburgh
at the start of the G8 summit
It had occurred to me that the anti-globalization movement might be strengthened by the current finance crisis. Good to see that someone who might know a little more about macroeconomics has been thinking along the same lines: “Global integration, in large part, has been about the triumph of markets over governments. That process is now being reversed in three important ways.” (Dani Rodrik’s weblog: )


Evolution, why it still happens

MiscarriageMiscarriageA response to Steve Jones’ contention that human evolution is stopping:

“[M]ost people “know” that evolution is about “survival of the fittest” and that nature is red in tooth and claw. Therefore, it naturally stands to reason that when mortality declines evolution will be a weaker force. I think the problem here is that our conception of evolution is focused too greatly on proximate modes and large scale dynamics. That is, selective high mortality rates are a “common sense” way in which the “weak” can be weeded out from the “strong.” But what about the extremely high human spontaneous abortion rates? Evolutionary biologist Mark Ridley has argued that increased miscarriage rates will “balance” out the fact that more individuals with deleterious mutations are reproducing today than in the past. Selection therefore occurs in utero; we don’t observe it so it is not salient to us. But it is selection nonetheless.” (Gene Expression Blog)

How Rich Are You?

Theodore Gericault's Portrait of a Kleptomania...Gericault’s Portrait of a KleptomaniacGlobal Rich List: “Every year we gaze enviously at the lists of the richest people in world.
Wondering what it would be like to have that sort of cash. But where
would you sit on one of those lists? Here’s your chance to find out.”

(thanks, miguel)

Noonan, York, Toobin And Others Take Aim At McCain

US Senator Barack Obama campaigning in New Hampshire“With 22 days left before the voters hit the polls, conservative pundits and media commentators are scratching their heads over the lack of direction – indeed, the near schizophrenic judgment – of the McCain campaign.

Appearing at the Time Warner Summit conference on the 2008 election, a host of prominent electoral observers were all bearish on the Arizona Republican’s presidential ambitions. Not one panelist took the chance to defend the Senator’s choice of Sarah Palin as vice president. Others simply saw death by electoral numbers…

‘Obama seems older in a way,’ said [Peggy Noonan]. ‘McCain has seemed herky-jerky. Obama has seemed like the older, steadier fellow since the economic crisis began.'” (HuffPo)


Paul Krugman’s ‘Baby-sitting the economy’

Princeton Profess...

“Paul Krugman, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences today for his work on international trade patterns, was the lead economics columnist for Slate from the magazine’s launch in 1996 to 1999, when he became a columnist for the New York Times. His ‘Dismal Science’ column covered everything from puzzling economics of ticket scalping to the tenacity of supply-side economics in presidential campaigns. One particular favorite, which was included in Slate‘s 10th-anniversary anthology, is ‘Baby-Sitting the Economy,’ a column about what a failed baby-sitting cooperative in Washington, D.C., can teach us about a global economic crisis. The article is reprinted below.”

Christopher Hitchens Endorses Obama

McCain lacks the character and temperament to be president. And Palin is simply a disgrace.

“I used to nod wisely when people said: “Let’s discuss issues rather than personalities.” It seemed so obvious that in politics an issue was an issue and a personality was a personality, and that the more one could separate the two, the more serious one was. After all, in a debate on serious issues, any mention of the opponent’s personality would be ad hominem at best and at worst would stoop as low as ad feminam.

…I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that “issue” I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity. Obama is greatly overrated in my opinion, but the Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one, even if it does accept the support of the surrender faction, and it does show some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience. With McCain, the “experience” is subject to sharply diminishing returns, as is the rest of him, and with Palin the very word itself is a sick joke. One only wishes that the election could be over now and a proper and dignified verdict rendered, so as to spare democracy and civility the degradation to which they look like being subjected in the remaining days of a low, dishonest campaign.” (Slate)


Mysterious New ‘Dark Flow’ Discovered in Space

The highest quality resolution version of this...

“As if the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy weren’t vexing enough, another baffling cosmic puzzle has been discovered.

Patches of matter in the universe seem to be moving at very high speeds and in a uniform direction that can’t be explained by any of the known gravitational forces in the observable universe. Astronomers are calling the phenomenon ‘dark flow.’

The stuff that’s pulling this matter must be outside the observable universe, researchers conclude.” (space.com)


How McCain Will Steal the Election from Obama (Sort Of)

Members of the Associa...

Tom Matzzie: “Imagine an election where one of the participants calls foul. Investigations are launched or at least called for. Prosecutors raise the specter of charges, the U.S. attorney and FBI get involved. No voter fraud is ever actually found. But by the time that conclusion is reached, the myth has been solidified both to soothe the loser’s supporters and condemn the winner.”(HuffPo)

Mazzie shows the specious reasoning in the allegation that ACORN committed voter fraud… but why the appearance of impropriety, fueled by the McCain campaign, may make the truth irrelevant:

“The stunning con of this whole thing is the assumption that bad voter registration cards being submitted will lead to vote fraud. If somebody submits a card for Mickey Mouse it isn’t like Mr. Mouse is going to show up to vote. There is no voter fraud if nobody votes.

But the big story here is what the Right is doing. Their attacks on ACORN open up the door for two things.

First, the ACORN myth allows the Republicans to do more purging of the voter rolls–the process of removing people from the voter rolls because of arbitrary anomalies in the voter registration databases…

Second, in the event that campaigning, purging and intimidating voters doesn’t work, the Right is creating a myth like they did in 1960. They are creating the myth of a stolen election…”



Yahoo! Widgets - Waste Basket

“In the beginning, the internet was a place where one could communicate intelligently with similarly erudite people. Then, Eternal September hit and we were lost in the noise. The advent of user-driven web content has compounded the matter yet further, straining our tolerance to the breaking point.

It’s time to fight back.

The solution we’re creating is simple: an open-source filter software that can detect rampant stupidity in written English. This will be accomplished with weighted Bayesian or similar analysis and some rules-based processing, similar to spam detection engines. The primary challenge inherent in our task is that stupidity is not a binary distinction, but rather a matter of degree. To this end, we’re collecting a ranked corpus of stupid text, gleaned from user comments on public websites and ranked on a five-point scale.

Eventually, once the research is completed, we plan to release core engine source code for incorporation into content management systems, blogs, wikis and the like. Additionally, we plan to develop a fully implemented Firefox plugin and a WordPress plugin.”


Desperate McCain gives beat to the dark heart of conservatism

John McCain and Sarah Palin

Michael Tomasky: “We are seeing, from (happily, at least for the time being) the majority of the country, much of what is good and decent about America in this election. But we are also seeing in smaller proportion what is chilling. The people in those videos have no proof to back up their beliefs, because of course no such proof exists. They just feel it, and that’s enough. But that isn’t what’s most disturbing. There will always be such people in all societies. What’s most disturbing is that McCain and Palin are egging them on.” (Guardian.UK)

Hi Ho Honda!

2006-2007 Honda Civic photographed in USA.

Civic Musical Road Plays Rossini’s William Tell Overture: “From Autopia‘s ‘Most Annoying Promotion Ever’ department comes this dispatch from Lancaster, California, where Honda’s marketing team joined forces with the city to turn a stretch of road on the edge of town into a giant LP that plays ‘The William Tell Overture,’ which you might more readily recognize as the theme to The Lone Ranger.

The quarter-mile stretch of Avenue K renamed ‘Civic Musical Road’ features grooves cut into the pavement in such a way as to make the tires resonate to the tune of Gioachino Rossini‘s classic symphony. The road, which Honda claimed sounded best when ‘played’ on a new Civic going exactly 55 miles per hour, was just one of four ‘melody roads’ in the world and the first in America. ‘I think it’s kind of cool,’ Peggy Llano told the L.A. Daily News. ‘When you are driving out on Avenue K. you’re going out to the middle of nowhere. It’s kind of a nice surprise to come across this thing.’

A lot of Lancaster residents disagreed, which is why we’re writing about this in the past tense. The ‘musical road’ is being paved over today, leaving only the YouTube video after the jump to remember it by.” (Wired)


O death, when is thy sting?

Gerrymandering the boundary: “In August… Robert Truog of the Harvard Medical School and Franklin Miller of America’s National Institutes of Health, bioethicists both, published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine describing a recent trend to revert to using cardiac death as the critical marker. But that is not good news for Dr Scaraffia and her followers for, according to Dr Truog and Dr Miller, the definition of cardiac death has changed over the years in just the sort of way that Dr Scaraffia predicted that it might.

Dr Truog and Dr Miller posit the example of a patient who has given informed consent to the withdrawal of life support in the case of his suffering devastating brain injury. The doctors respect his wishes and his heart stops beating. So far, so ethical. But instead of waiting a few minutes for his brain to die as well, they anticipate this inevitability and declare him dead immediately, so that they can hurry along with the business of removing his organs.

Death in such cases is therefore based on a decision not to resuscitate, not the impossibility of resuscitation. And their hypothetical case does seem to be happening more frequently in reality. In America, data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, an organisation that matches donors to recipients, show that those classified as cardiac-dead but not brain-dead represent the fastest growing proportion of donors, having risen from zero ten years ago to 7% in 2006.

Dr Truog and Dr Miller reckon this gerrymandering of the division between life and death will continue as long as doctors have to abide by the dead-donor rule—that although a living person can consent to have a non-vital organ removed for transplant (a single kidney, for example) vital organs can be removed only from dead bodies. Instead, they propose that someone whose brain is devastatingly and irreversibly damaged, and who has previously given his informed consent, should be able to donate vital organs while still alive.

In practice, says Dr Truog, this would not differ much from what happens now, except that doctors would be released from the temptation to fudge the definition of death, or to accelerate it by, for example, withdrawing life-sustaining treatment. Indeed, the British government is considering changing the regulations in a way that would allow just that to happen.” (The Economist)


After Flying, Grounding

Book cover of Walking when and where most people wouldn’t: “British novelist Will Self came to New York not long ago to promote his latest published work, a nonfiction book on walking called Psychogeography. When Self arrived at LaGuardia Airport, he was met for a radio interview by Pejk (pronounced ‘Pike’] Malinovski, a reporter for the WNYC show, “Studio 360.”

Malinovski taped a walk with Self. That was the interview. The first place the pair walked to was the airport’s Ground Transportation desk. There, Self asked the woman at the counter for the best route to take in order to reach Manhattan on foot.

“You want to . . . walk . . . out of the airport?” It was as much a statement as a question–or as much a question as a statement.

“Yes,” Self replied.

“You want to walk,” she repeated, just to make sure she’d heard right. “You mean, like . . . walk.”

“Yes,” Self repeated.

After she recovered, the Ground Transportation representative pointed Self and Malinovski in the right direction. And soon, after some highway-hopping–and an impromptu cemetery tour–they were walking the streets of residential Queens, Manhattan-bound.

For Self, this airport-walking is nothing new. He has walked from his home in London all the way to Heathrow; and trekked the 18 miles from O’Hare to Chicago’s Loop. “Walking after flying grounds one, literally,” says Self. “It reconnects you with the earth.”

Self began walking for fitness, but he has come to see it as much more, as “an insurgency against the contemporary world, an act of refusal, of dissent.”” (Walking Is Transportation)


Is the Crisis Real?

British pounds, Danish kroner, Euros, and Cana...

“At a Harvard panel discussion…, Gregory Mankiw–Harvard economist and Chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers 2003-2005, made an interesting point: The liquidity crisis isn’t real. Or, to restate it: Any liquidity crisis is caused by the promise of a government bailout. Greg said that his many friends in investment banking said that there is plenty of money to invest in financial services, but right now it is ‘sitting on the sidelines.’ Why? Because the financial services industry does not want to pay the terms required to get that money back in circulation (e.g., give up equity). As he put it, why do business with Warren Buffett who will negotiate a tough deal, if you believe that the government will ride in soon with cheaper cash?” (Credit Slips)

What if it’s a Wealth Shock?

Air mail envelope

Arnold Kling: “For a different and important perspective on the financial crisis, I want to draw your attention to Robert Merton’s remarks at Thursday’s Harvard forum, linked to here. The Nobel Laureate begins with a back-of-the-envelope calculation. Data suggest that between June of 2007 and June of 2008, average home prices in the U.S. fell by 16 to 18 percent. Near the peak of the housing market, total housing wealth was between $20 and $23 trillion.

Simple multiplication says that we have lost somewhere around $3.5 to $4 trillion. As Merton says,

When you have this wealth loss, nothing that’s done here will resurrect it.

On top of that, not mentioned by Merton but alluded to by Rogoff, there is the drop in wealth represented by the decline in the dollar. Marking our assets to world prices, a lower dollar lowers our wealth. Furthermore, Rogoff and other economists believe that the dollar decline has further to go.” (econlib)


The Haute-est Cuisines

Japanese - 月料理 重詰め (New Year...<Gael Greene: “What are the most important restaurants of the past 40 years?” (New York Magazine 40th anniversary issue) [I have only eaten at three of the fourteen. — FmH]