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A neuroscientist imagines the afterlife

[Image 'http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3f/GuideToTheAfterlife-CustodianForGoddessAmun-AltesMuseum-Berlin.png/202px-GuideToTheAfterlife-CustodianForGoddessAmun-AltesMuseum-Berlin.png' cannot be displayed]
from the Egyptian Book of the Dead...

“Something interesting almost always happens when thinkers with a scientific bent write fiction. (Jonah Lehrer discusses this in “Proust Was a Neuroscientist.”) But David Eagleman really is a neuroscientist — he heads the Laboratory for Perception and Action at Baylor College of Medicine. Each vignette here describes a possible afterlife.

“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” The afterlife is soft in one story, has “San Diego weather” in another. Not surprising, God’s favorite book is “Frankenstein,” so Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley gets her own throne.

God is a woman. God is a married couple. We are God’s internal organs. In one afterlife, you relive your life with events shuffled in a different order; for example, you take all your pain at once or spend six days clipping your nails. Another afterlife is made up of only people you know. There’s less traffic, but “The missing crowds make you lonely.” “Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives” is teeming, writhing with imagination. It’s the Duomo between covers, reinvented and distilled.” via Seattle Times.

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Anonymous Postcard

Official congressional portrait of former cong...
“The artists behind Anonymous Postcardhave created a website with real-world applications. You send a suitably interesting message of complaint or congratulations. They create a one-of-a-kind postcard and mail it to your chosen recipient.

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke received an encouragement card fashioned from a $5 bill. Former governor Rod Blagojevich’s card was crafted out of a hair-product container. And the message addressed to “Moms of Mill Valley, CA” — asking them to control their bratty kids — was printed, none too subtly, on an empty condom box.”

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Citing Cost, States Consider Halting Death Penalty

'Old Sparky' is the electric chair that Nebras...

The new argument: death penalty cases cost three times as much as non-capital homicide cases. We can’t afford that when there are better cheaper ways to dissuade crime. Death penalty opponents welcome their new economic allies. And even some longtime death penalty proponents are being swayed, although others continue to trot out the same old tired arguments about the death penalty as a deterrent. via NYTimes.

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The I’s Have It

William Shakespeare

‘Since his election, the president has been roundly criticized by bloggers for using “I” instead of “me” in phrases like “a very personal decision for Michelle and I” or “the main disagreement with John and I” or “graciously invited Michelle and I.”

The rule here, according to conventional wisdom, is that we use “I” as a subject and “me” as an object, whether the pronoun appears by itself or in a twosome. Thus every “I” in those quotes ought to be a “me.”

So should the president go stand in a corner of the Oval Office (if he can find one) and contemplate the error of his ways? Not so fast.

For centuries, it was perfectly acceptable to use either “I” or “me” as the object of a verb or preposition, especially after “and.” Literature is full of examples. Here’s Shakespeare, in “The Merchant of Venice”: “All debts are cleared between you and I.” And here’s Lord Byron, complaining to his half-sister about the English town of Southwell, “which, between you and I, I wish was swallowed up by an earthquake, provided my eloquent mother was not in it.”

It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that language mavens began kvetching about “I” and “me.” ‘ via NYTimes Op-Ed.

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Students Stand When Called Upon, and When Not

“The children in Ms. Brown’s class, and in some others at Marine Elementary School and additional schools nearby, are using a type of adjustable-height school desk, allowing pupils to stand while they work, that Ms. Brown designed with the help of a local ergonomic furniture company two years ago. The stand-up desk’s popularity with children and teachers spread by word of mouth from this small town to schools in Wisconsin, across the St. Croix River. Now orders for the desks are being filled for districts from North Carolina to California.” via NYTimes.

Could this be all it might take to stem the tide of tarring and feathering a significant fraction of American gradeschoolers with the ADHD label? (As readers of FmH know, I think this is one of the greatest travesties of modern psychodiagnosis.)

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Brooklyn’s New Culinary Movement

Location of Brooklyn shown in yellow.

“These Brooklynites, most in their 20s and 30s, are hand-making pickles, cheeses and chocolates the way others form bands and artists’ collectives. They have a sense of community and an appreciation for traditional methods and flavors. They also share an aesthetic that’s equal parts 19th and 21st century, with a taste for bold graphics, salvaged wood and, for the men, scruffy beards.” via NYTimes.

I was born in Brooklyn although I only lived there until I was 5, but it sounds (and tastes) like now would be a good time to be back there.

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Is honor killing a Muslim issue?

Given the recent beheading by an American Muslim of his ex-wife, this is a Google search on the question, “Is honor killing a Muslim issue|problem?” (In the spirit of the ‘memewatches’ Jorn Barger used to do in Robot Wisdom, if that means anything to you…)

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Happy Mardi Gras

“The Roman religious calendar reflected Rome’s hospitality to the cults and deities of conquered territories–including the Greeks. Originally Roman religious festivals were few in number. Some of the oldest survived to the very end of the pagan empire, preserving the memory of the fertility and propitiatory rites of a primitive agricultural people. New festivals were introduced, however, to mark the naturalization of new gods. So many festivals were adopted eventually that the work days on the calendar were outnumbered. The Lupercalia and Equiria were two important Roman religious festivals celebrated in February and March.

The Lupercalia was an ancient festival originally honoring Lupercus, a pastoral god of the Italians. The festival was celebrated on February 15 at the cave of the Lupercal on the Palatine Hill, where the legendary founders of Rome, the twins Romulus and Remus, were supposed to have been nursed by a wolf. Among the Roman legends connected with them is that of Faustulus, a shepherd who was supposed to have discovered the twins in the wolf’s den and to have taken them to his home, in which they were brought up by his wife, Acca Larentia.

The Equiria is a festival in honor of Mars, was celebrated on February 27 and March 14, traditionally the time of year when new military campaigns were prepared. Horse races in the Campus Martius notably marked the celebration.

In Greek and Roman mythology, Bacchus is the god of wine, identified with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, and Liber, the Roman god of wine. The son of Zeus (Jupiter), Bacchus is usually characterized in two ways. The first is that of the god of vegetation, specifically of the fruit of the trees, who is often represented on Attic vases with a drinking horn and vine branches. As Bacchus came to be the popular national Greek god of wine and cheer, wine miracles were reputedly performed at his festivals. The second characterization of the god, that of a deity whose mysteries inspired ecstatic, orgiastic devotion, is exemplified by the Maenads, or Bacchantes. This group of female devotees left their homes to roam the wilderness in ecstatic devotion to the god. They wore fawn skins and were believed to possess occult powers.

The name Bacchus came into use in ancient Greece during the 5th century B.C. It refers to the loud cries with which he was worshiped at the Bacchanalia, frenetic celebrations in his honor. These events, which supposedly originated in spring nature festivals, became occasions for licentiousness and intoxication, at which the celebrants danced, drank, and generally debauched themselves. The Bacchanalia became more and more extreme and were prohibited by the Roman Senate in 186 B.C. In the first century A.D., however, the Dionysiac mysteries were still popular, as evidenced by representations of them found on Greek sarcophagi.” via Mardi Gras pagan origins – Google Search.

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Happy Birthday, Jane Hirshfield

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Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City in 1953. After receiving her B.A. from Princeton University in their first graduating class to include women, she went on to study at the San Francisco Zen Center. Her books of poetry include After HarperCollins, 2006; Given Sugar, Given Salt 2001, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Lives of the Heart 1997, The October Palace 1994, Of Gravity & Angels 1988, and Alaya 1982.

She is the author of Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry 1997 and has also edited and translated The Ink Dark Moon: Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan 1990 with Mariko Aratani and Women in Praise of the Sacred: Forty-Three Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women 1994.

Poem Holding Its Heart In One Fist

Each pebble in this world keeps
its own counsel.

Certain words–these, for instance–
may be keeping a pronoun hidden.
Perhaps the lover’s you
or the solipsist’s I.
Perhaps the philosopher’s willowy it.

The concealment plainly delights.

Even a desk will gather
its clutch of secret, half-crumpled papers,
eased slowly, over years,
behind the backs of drawers.

Olives adrift in the altering brine-bath
etch onto their innermost pits
a few furrowed salts that will never be found by the tongue.

Yet even with so much withheld,
so much unspoken,
potatoes are cooked with butter and parsley,
and buttons affixed to their sweater.
Invited guests arrive, then dutifully leave.

And this poem, afterward, washes its breasts
with soap and trembling hands, disguising nothing.

Poem With Two Endings

Say “death” and the whole room freezes–
even the couches stop moving,
even the lamps.
Like a squirrel suddenly aware it is being looked at.

Say the word continuously,
and things begin to go forward.
Your life takes on
the jerky texture of an old film strip.

Continue saying it, hold it moment after moment inside the mouth,
it becomes another syllable.
A shopping mall swirls around the corpse of a beetle.

Death is voracious, it swallows all the living.
Life is voracious, it swallows all the dead.
neither is ever satisfied, neither is ever filled,
each swallows and swallows the world.

The grip of life is as strong as the grip of death.

(but the vanished, the vanished beloved, o where?)

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Cosmic Coincidence

“On Tuesday morning, Feb. 24th, Saturn and Comet Lulin will converge in the constellation Leo only 2o apart. At the same time, Comet Lulin will be making its closest approach to Earth (38 million miles), while four of Saturn’s moons transit the disk of the ringed planet. Oh, and the Moon will be New, providing dark skies for anyone who wishes to see the show…

.Set your alarm for 1 am. That’s the best time to see Comet Lulin riding high in the southern sky pleasingly close to golden Saturn: sky map. To the unaided eye, Lulin looks like a faint patch of gas. Point your telescope at that patch and you will see a lovely green comet.” via SpaceWeather.com.

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US UFO Hotspots Map


April 14, 1561, Nuremberg Germany

“Where is UFO country? PM went to the Center for UFO Studies’ database to find out where the top counties for UFO spotting reside and how they coincide with air traffic control boundaries. Here are the top regions for UFO spots along with tips on how to report a sighting.” via Popular Mechanics

As it turns out, I live within 50 miles of Rockingham County, NH, which has logged 183 reported UFO sightings in the 1947-2005 interval tabulated here.

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Court strikes down California video game law

Fallout box art

“A federal appeals court on Friday struck down a California law that sought to ban the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

…In a written opinion, Judge Consuelo Callahan said there were less restrictive ways to protect children from “unquestionably violent” video games. For example, the justices said the industry has a voluntary rating system and that parents can block certain games on video consoles.” via The Associated Press.

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Cheney and the Goat Devil

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shares a ...

Maureen Dowd: “One of the great mysteries of the Bush presidency is whether W. ever had an epiphany when he realized that he had been manipulated by Dick Cheney, whether it ever hit him that he had trusted the wrong father figure.” via NYTimes Op-Ed.

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The places that gravity forgot

“Vast regions of space, millions of kilometres across, in which celestial forces conspire to cancel out gravity and so trap anything that falls into them. They sit in the Earth’s orbit, one marching ahead of our planet, the other trailing along behind. Astronomers call them Lagrangian points, or L4 and L5 for short. The best way to think of them, though, is as celestial flypaper.

In the 4.5 billion years since the formation of the solar system, everything from dust clouds to asteroids and hidden planets may have accumulated there. Some have even speculated that alien spacecraft are watching us from the Lagrangian points, looking for signs of intelligence.” via New Scientist.

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In Search of the Mongolian Death Worm

This is an image for the article about the All...

“Trudging gingerly across the arid sands of the Gobi desert, Czech explorer Ivan Mackerle is careful not to put a foot wrong, for he knows it may be his last. He scours the land and shifting valleys for tell-tale signs of disturbance in the sands below, always ready for the unexpected lurch of an alien being said to kill in one strike with a sharp spout of acidic venom to the face. A creature so secretive that no photographic evidence yet exists, but the locals know it’s there, always waiting in silence for its prey, waiting to strike – the Mongolian Death Worm.” via Environmental Graffiti.

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Rebecca Traister on Bristol Palin’s televised interview

Location of Willow, Alaska

‘All over the news on Tuesday were clips of 18-year-old new mother Bristol Palin stuttering awkwardly in an interview with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren and saying what many Americans already know all too well: that the idea of teenage abstinence is unrealistic.

But more than just sound bites, Van Susteren’s interview with Bristol (and her “surprise-guest” mom) was a vivid reminder of how, sadly, this unremarkable high schooler got dragged into the spotlight by a Republican ticket anxious to paper over its party’s family-values inconsistencies with the addition of a just-folks clan led by an Alaskan governor determined to use her family as an illustration of her policies. It was also an embodiment of all that was frustrating and tone-deaf about those policies, and about the governor’s candidacy for the vice-presidency.’ via Salon Life.

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Homeowners’ rallying cry: Show Me the note

Stave off your foreclosure by asking the bank to produce the original mortgage note. Often, it can no longer be found.

‘During the real estate frenzy of the past decade, mortgages were sold and resold, bundled into securities and peddled to investors. In many cases, the original note signed by the homeowner was lost, stored away in a distant warehouse or destroyed.

Persuading a judge to compel production of hard-to-find or nonexistent documents can, at the very least, delay foreclosure, buying the homeowner some time and turning up the pressure on the lender to renegotiate the mortgage.’ via The Associated Press.

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First liquid water spotted on Mars?

An artist's rendition of the Phoenix Mars prob...

‘NASA’s Phoenix lander may have captured the first images of liquid water on Mars – droplets that apparently splashed onto the spacecraft’s leg during landing, according to some members of the Phoenix team.

The controversial observation could be explained by the mission’s previous discovery of perchlorate salts in the soil, since the salts can keep water liquid at sub-zero temperatures. Researchers say this antifreeze effect makes it possible for liquid water to be widespread just below the surface of Mars, but point out that even if it is there, it may be too salty to support life as we know it.New Scientist.

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Aides Say No Pardon for Libby Irked Cheney

Lewis "Scooter" Libby

Dick Cheney spent his final days as vice president making a furious last-ditch effort to secure a pardon for his onetime chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., leaving him at odds with former President George W. Bush on a matter of personal loyalty as the two moved on to private life, according to several former officials.” via NYTimes.

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A Life of Troubles Followed Estelle Bennett’s Burst of Fame

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‘For a few years in the mid-1960s Estelle Bennett lived a girl-group fairy tale, posing for magazine covers with her fellow Ronettes and dating the likes of George Harrison and Mick Jagger. Along with her sister and their cousin Nedra Talley, she helped redefine rock ’n’ roll femininity.

The Ronettes delivered their songs’ promises of eternal puppy love in the guise of tough vamps from the streets of New York. Their heavy mascara, slit skirts and piles of teased hair suggested both sex and danger…

But Ms. Bennett’s death last week at 67 revealed a post-fame life of illness and squalor that was little known even to many of the Ronettes’ biggest fans. In her decades away from the public eye she struggled with anorexia and schizophrenia, and at times she had also been homeless, said her daughter, Toyin Hunter.’ via NYTimes.

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The Scientifically Engineered Worst Song in the World

“We just listened to the track in full, and it’s not bad per se – that is, provided you dig batshit, emotionally jarring music, where children sing about Easter shopping at Walmart. It also features plenty of oompah horns and bagpipes, so at least it’s multiculturally offensive. (That’s not even mentioning the Dracula organ dirges, either.)” via Houston Press.

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Send Me No Flowers?

A buyer ...

‘…[T]here’s increasing grumbling about Valentine’s Day, a vaguely defined occasion that forces people, at arrow-point, to declare their deepest emotions, and maybe even to manufacture some that aren’t there. Some call it FAD, “Forced Affection Day.” True, there are those who bemoan the commercialization of Christmas, or the seemingly contrived nature of Mother’s Day or Administrative Professionals Week. Yet Valentine’s Day is the only American celebration with a resistance movement. It comprises singles who resent the incessant emphasis on romantic love, parents who resent the necessity of procuring 24 Disney princess cards with red lollipops attached, and devoted couples, married and not, who resent the compulsion of it all…’ via WSJ.

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GlaxoSmithKline pledges cheap medicine for world’s poor

GlaxoSmithKline

Good news, if the cynic in me could only come to believe it:

‘The world’s second biggest pharmaceutical company is to radically shift its attitude to providing cheap drugs to millions of people in the developing world.

In a major change of strategy, the new head of GlaxoSmithKline, Andrew Witty, has told the Guardian he will slash prices on all medicines in the poorest countries, give back profits to be spent on hospitals and clinics and – most ground-breaking of all – share knowledge about potential drugs that are currently protected by patents.

Witty says he believes drug companies have an obligation to help the poor get treatment. He challenges other pharmaceutical giants to follow his lead.

Pressure on the industry has been growing over the past decade, triggered by the Aids catastrophe…’

via The Guardian.

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Diamond no longer nature’s hardest material

Diamond Age

‘Diamond will always be a girl’s best friend, but it may soon lose favour with industrial drillers.

The gemstone lost its title of the “world’s hardest material” some time ago, to man-made nanomaterials of slightly greater toughness. Now a rare natural substance looks likely to leave them all far behind – at 58% harder than diamond.

The first, wurtzite boron nitride has a similar structure to diamond, but is made up of different atoms.

The second, the mineral lonsdaleite, or hexagonal diamond is made from carbon atoms just like diamond, but they are arranged in a different shape.’ via New Scientist.

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Spread Out the New York Times, Sunday Paper Style

New York Times Building

The New York Times keeps playing around with their online presentation, with interesting, helpful results. The “Article Skimmer” spreads stories out landscape style and ad-free, creating an easier read for laptops and wide-screen LCDs… [O]ne of the Times’ public prototype experiments, [it] presents a de-cluttered look at the front page, news sections, and the ever-popular “Most Emailed” list. No ads at all, at least in this early stage, until you click on the actual articles. If you find yourself quickly scrolling down the Times’ front page to grab more headlines than the boxed, column-style presentation allows, this might be a nice bookmark or home page replacement.’ via Lifehacker.

I have tried various ways to keep up with the Times on a daily basis since moving my news-reading entirely to the web. This is by far the best way I’ve found. And thanks to Lifehacker, another of my daily reads…

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The Myth of Dresden

Dresden (Saxony, Germany) - View from town hal...

However immoral it may have been, the horrific 1945 bombing of Dresden had a clear military rationale, a British historian says, because it was “a major transport and communication hub less than 120 miles from the advancing Russians.” Each February, he says, protesting German neo-Nazis inflate “the myth that it was of no military or industrial importance” as “a tool to relativize Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust.” via Der Spiegel.

Interestingly enough, German Jews turn out in large numbers at the Dresden commemorations, to mourn the German dead. One Jewish demonstrator explained that they do not blame the Allies for bombing Dresden, but rather the Nazis who made it necessary.

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Wild Thing

Neko Case

The New York Times Magazine profiles one of my favorites, ‘force of nature’ Neko Case:

In part because of the inexpensiveness and flexibility of digital technology, the universe of independent singer-songwriters is constantly expanding. But in that universe, Neko Case is near the center. She is to many what she herself would call “the Man!” Her last CD, an often surreal and melodically inventive collection of songs called “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood,” rose to No. 54 on the Billboard chart and ended up selling 200,000 copies. And publications like Rolling Stone and Spin and The Stranger, along with a growing cadre of intense, often lovesick fans, have lionized Case’s singing voice as uniquely clear and powerful. It may not vibrate as much as she would like, but it’s not the angel-sweet sound of Alison Krauss, either — it has real richness and body. And on her new CD, “Middle Cyclone,” to be released in March by Anti- (a division of the punkish label Epitaph that features all their artists who aren’t punk), Case displays a wide vocal and emotional range only intermittently present on her six previous recordings and in her regular releases with the Canadian power-pop band the New Pornographers. She has often been described as a belter, a force of nature, a kind of vocal tornado. So this increased admixture of playfulness, delicacy and orchestral effects strikes you as the kind of variegation that artists — and species — make in order to survive and thrive.

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Towards a Talmudic Ontology of Consensus (by way of demons)

Jerusalem Talmud ma...

‘In his 1978 essay, “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later“, Philip K. Dick wrote, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” This ontology is challenged by a syndrome recently brought to my attention in a recent post on boingboing.net, “Hallucinations brought on by eye disease,” wherein David Pescovitz writes,

In recent days, both the Daily Mail and Wired.com looked at Charles Bonnet Syndrome [CBS], a disease characterized by bizarre and vivid visual hallucinations. Interestingly, people who suffer from CBS aren’t mentally ill but have visual impairments such as macular degeneration. Even weirder is that the hallucinations often involve characters or things that are much smaller in size than reality.

Read the whole post and follow the link to this article at the Daily Mail on Charles Bonnet Syndrome, and this interview at Wired with neurologist Oliver Sachs. Together, they provide an insight for understanding a particularly fascinating method given in the Talmud for seeing Mazikin (lit. harmful spirits, ie. demons)…’ via Aharon’s Omphalos.

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Japanese V-Sign

‘So why exactly do most Japanese folk do the V-sign when having their photos taken? According to Wikipedia, the earliest confirmed usage of the V-sign was by Winston Churchil during World War II – the V-sign meaning “Victory.” The Japanese Wikipedia for the entry Peace Sign however says that there is a theory that the two fingers mean that two nuclear bombs where dropped on Japan meaning that peace is near…

During the 1972 Winter Olympics in Japan, skater Janet Lynn (who was also a peace activist) was photographed by the Japanese media doing the V-sign. Although the V-sign was already recognized in Japan, it was apparently these photos of Lynn that popularized the use of the V-sign.

The Japanese entry in Wikipedia does not mention Lynn at all and instead says that the V-sign took off in the 80’s when usage of the V-sign was used when kids were having their photos taken.’ via Boing Boing.

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The Maggots in Your Mushrooms

Making the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

“The Georgia peanut company at the center of one of our nation’s worst food-contamination scares has officially reached a revolting new low: a recent inspection by the Food and Drug Administration discovered that the salmonella-tainted plant was also home to mold and roaches.

You may be grossed out, but insects and mold in our food are not new. The F.D.A. actually condones a certain percentage of “natural contaminants” in our food supply — meaning, among other things, bugs, mold, rodent hairs and maggots.

In its (falsely) reassuringly subtitled booklet “The Food Defect Action Levels: Levels of Natural or Unavoidable Defects in Foods That Present No Health Hazards for Humans,” the F.D.A.’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition establishes acceptable levels of such “defects” for a range of foods products, from allspice to peanut butter.” — EJ Levy via NYTimes op ed.

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Lincoln Remains

I have never been there, but this sounds like a fascinating place to visit:

“Between the reopening of Ford Theater, constant comparisons, and the 200th anniversary of his birth, the nation’s spotlight is fully fixated on the United States 16th President, one Abraham Lincoln. Yet through all the Lincoln buzz and excitement, an out-of-the-way museum in Washington D.C. is quietly preparing a different, somewhat more macabre kind of Lincoln exhibit. The National Museum of Health and Medicine owns the bullet that killed the president, casts of his face and hands, fragments of his skull jiggled loose during the autopsy, a lock of hair removed from the wound, the probe used to locate the bullet, and a shirt cuff stained with Lincoln’s blood.

Oddly, we have Lincoln himself to thank for the preserving of these items along with the rest of the wonderful collection at the NMHM. In 1862 Lincoln appointed William Alexander Hammond, a neurologist, to be the 11th Surgeon General of the U.S. Army. The National Museum of Health and Medicine was established that same year under Hammond’s orders. Its mission was to “collect, and to forward to the office of the Surgeon General all specimens of morbid anatomy, surgical or medical, which may be regarded as valuable; together with projectiles and foreign bodies removed, and such other matters as may prove of interest in the study of military medicine or surgery.” …

The museum holds far more than simply war artifacts. One fascinating display at the NMHM is the mummified head and shoulders of a girl who died naturally in the late 1800s and was embalmed using an arsenic-laced formula. While preserved by the arsenic, she was turned a ghostly white. The fetal section is incredibly compelling, with a row of skeletons arranged by height and illustrating different stages of development, to the conjoined twins, to the pathological fetuses, to the incredible Diaphanised fetuses (diaphanisation is a chemical process which stains the skeleton red, while making the flesh transparent). Another curious item is the Trichobezoar, a human hairball, removed from a 12 year old girl who compulsively ate her hair for 6 years. More than anything, Curious Expeditions would like to say while he surely never intended to end up as a part of the museum, we can thank Lincoln for helping create an institution where his remains are evident, both physically and metaphorically.” via Curious Expeditions thanks to julia.

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India: Cow Urine Soft Drink, Gau Jal, To Be Launched As Coke Alternative

A cow [15/365]

“India’s Hindu nationalist movement is working on creating a new soft drink to rival Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The main ingredient? Cow urine.

The Times Online explains the development of the beverage by the Cow Protection Department of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS):

Om Prakash, the head of the department, said the drink – called “gau jal”, or “cow water” – in Sanskrit was undergoing laboratory tests and would be launched “very soon, maybe by the end of this year”.

“Don’t worry, it won’t smell like urine and will be tasty too,” he told The Times from his headquarters in Hardwar, one of four holy cities on the River Ganges…” via Huffington Post.

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Man appears free of HIV after stem cell transplant

Request for HIV/AIDS Grant Proposals

“A 42-year-old HIV patient with leukemia appears to have no detectable HIV in his blood and no symptoms after a stem cell transplant from a donor carrying a gene mutation that confers natural resistance to the virus that causes AIDS, according to a report published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.” via CNN.

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Satellite crash poses new political risk

The Day The Space Age Began

“There are about 18,000 identifiable, man-made objects in space, including operational and defunct satellites, spent rocket boosters and debris. Experts said that while the risk of satellite collisions like Tuesday’s was exceptionally small, now one had occurred it made another more likely.

“The problem with collisions like this is that they don’t destroy satellites, they just create smaller ones, like fast moving shotguns, that are potentially much more damaging,” said Diego.

Andrew Brookes, an aerospace analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the area where the collision occurred — called low-Earth orbit — was the most crowded portion of space and also one of the most important for sensitive communications, science and weather satellites.” via Reuters

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First Extinct-Animal Clone Created

José M.

“An extinct animal has been resurrected by cloning for the first time—though the clone died minutes after birth. Findings revealed January 23 in the journal Theriogenology describe the use of frozen skin in 2003 to clone a bucardo, or Pyrenean ibex, a subspecies of Spanish ibex that went extinct in 2000. Scientists had cloned endangered species before, but not one that had officially died out.” via National Geographic News.

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South African TV Station Declares “George Bush is Dead”

‘South Africa’s ETV News station made a little booboo, prematurely proclaiming “George Bush is dead” in a breaking news flash that aired on TVs throughout the country. Apparently the station uses the phrase a mock-up for headlines and a butterfingered (or sneaky) technician accidently pushed the button that runs the morbid message. A station spokesman said ETV would now test banners using “gobbledegook.” Dubya also responded to the little whoopsie, saying, “South Africa obviously misunderestimated my ability to outlive y’all.” ‘ via Truemors.

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The Madness of the Builders

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China Tower, Beijing, burning

“Every easy credit cycle sees some of the worst buildings built in the worst places and the worst possible way. For example, the crowning achievement of the 60’s boom was the decision to build a huge double tower complex in lower Manhattan. Rockerfeller controlled the State of NY and used government funds to build the WTC complex. I watched in total disgust, as this monster thing was built. I could see it had precious little internal support. Rather than being like a honeycomb, it was a pile of pancakes supported by slender steel exterior sheathes. It collapsed. Well, this cycle, even more unstable, ill-designed monstrosities are going up and just as fast, vanishing, the latest one is in China.” via EMSNews

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The building on the left is the one that burned.
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China’s CCTV didn’t cover its own tower’s fire

“Even before it was revealed Tuesday that an illegal fireworks display organized by China Central Television caused the spectacular fire that destroyed one of Beijing’s new glass-and-steel landmarks, the state-run broadcaster was already the subject of its own firestorm on the Internet.

The inferno at CCTV’s new, still-unoccupied headquarters complex laid bare a simmering anger and resentment toward the network for spending public money on grand construction projects and for continuing to broadcast government propaganda.” via Seattle Times .

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Leahy Talks To White House About Investigating Bush

George W. Bush signature.

‘Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy and White House Chief Counsel Greg Craig discussed on Tuesday the Senator’s proposal to set up a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate potential crimes of the Bush administration.

“I went over some of the parameters of it and they were well aware at the White House of what I’m talking about,” Leahy told the Huffington Post. “And we just agreed to talk further.”

The dialogue between the Vermont Democrat and the president’s office is a new phase in a delicate process concerning how best to handle potential crimes in the previous White House. Leahy proposed an investigatory commission on Monday, after which the president — speaking at his first news conference — said he did not currently have an opinion on the plan. Obama went on to say that he would rather look forward than backward, but he promised to prosecute any crime — whether committed was a former White House official or everyday citizen.’ via Huffington Post

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Protein reverses Alzheimer’s brain damage

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor
BDNF

“Injections of a natural growth factor into the brains of mice, rats and monkeys offers hope of preventing or reversing the earliest impacts of Alzheimer’s disease on memory. The benefits arose even in animals whose brains contained the hallmark plaques that clog up the brains of patients.

By delivering brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) directly into the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus, the parts of the brain where memories are formed then consolidated, the researchers successfully tackled damage exactly where Alzheimer’s strikes first…” via New Scientist.

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Why Are Music Bloggers’ Posts Disappearing, and Who Is Deleting Them?

Image representing Blogger as depicted in Crun...

“Each post takedown occurred on a blog hosted by the Google-owned Blogger platform, the publishing system used by the majority of mp3 sites, particularly those founded prior to 2007, when the open-source WordPress software became the vogue. Google, the bloggers believe, has quietly changed the methods by which it enforces its user agreement. Whereas in the past, a blog owner would receive a warning before a post’s removal, Google is now simply hitting the delete button.” via Los Angeles Weekly.

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Army Suicides At Highest Rate Since 1980 : NPR

A group burial se...

“In January, 24 U.S. soldiers are believed to have committed suicide — seven confirmed cases and 17 more awaiting confirmation.

By comparison, last January there were only five suicides in the Army.

Last month’s total is not just the highest monthly total since the Army started counting in 1980; it is more deaths than were sustained in combat last month by all branches of the armed forces combined. via NPR.

And:
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Female writers get graphic about their bodies

Image representing Gawker Media as depicted in...

“Laughing about all the nasty shit — or crying about it, kibitzing about it, whining about it, bragging about it, confessing it, writing about it, and most important, exposing it — it’s all the rage. Jezebel, the popular women’s offshoot of the Gawker empire, has been the leader of the oversharing crusade, with vibrant, aromatic and really graphic posts about everything from lodged tampons to yeast infection remedies to bloody period sex to female ejaculation. (The last, in Tracie Egan’s piece, “Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gush,” also includes Egan’s report that “I live my life perpetually suffering between either mild dehydration or a UTI, meaning that my piss is (ab)normally cloudy, stinky, and dark” ).

But Jezebel writers are not the only ones reveling in graphic female self-revelation. Other recent, mainstream expressions of the form have included Elle magazine’s brutal piece last summer by Miranda Purves, called “The Ring of Fire,” about how giving birth to her child tore her vagina asunder. An English translation of Charlotte Roche’s German bestseller Wetlands (“It is difficult to overstate the raunchiness of the novel,” read a story in the New York Times about Wetlands, “and hard to describe in a family newspaper”) is due in April. It opens with the sentence, “As far back as I can remember, I have had hemorrhoids.” And this month, a younger iteration of the lay-it-bare form: the publication of My Little Red Book, an anthology of more than 90 women’s stories of the first time they got their period. It includes contributions from well-known authors Jacquelyn Mitchard and Erica Jong and writers of popular tween novels Cecily von Ziegesar and Meg Cabot, as well as ruby red reminiscences from 1916 to 2007, by women who first began to bleed everywhere from Connecticut to Canada, Paris to New Zealand, India to Istanbul. Unsurprisingly, there’s an accompanying Web site where others can contribute their stories.” — Rebecca Traister via Salon.

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The fear about peanut allergies is nuts

Nothing Takes the Taste Out Of Peanut Butter
“Peanut-allergy panic has spread across the nation. In a recent essay, Harvard physician and sociologist Nicholas Christakis relates an incident in which a peanut was spotted on the floor of a school bus, “whereupon the bus was evacuated and cleaned (I am tempted to say decontaminated), even though it was full of 10 year olds who, unlike 2 year olds, could actually be told not to eat off the floor.”

Actions like that are no doubt overdue in the minds of organizations like the 30,000-member Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), a Virginia-based advocacy organization that has led the fight to raise awareness about peanut and other food allergies in both children and adults. Go to its Web site and you’ll see some eyebrow-raising points.

• The incidence of food allergies has doubled over the past 10 years.

• Food allergy is believed to be the leading cause of anaphylaxis outside hospitals, causing an estimated 50,000 emergency department visits each year in the U.S.

• Each year in the U.S., it is estimated that anaphylaxis caused by food results in 150 deaths.

Those FAAN numbers get cited in nearly every news report about food allergies. The organization’s founder, Anne Munoz-Furlong, mother of a food-allergic child, is well known in the media as a food allergy expert. She has done her own research and her studies have been published in medical literature. Now major medical groups, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, have recommended that children avoid eating peanuts until age 3. As for consuming other potentially allergic foods (such as strawberries or dairy), the AAP has, until recently, suggested that kids wait until age 2.

But on closer examination, food allergies are not the epidemic we’ve been led to believe. FAAN’s advocacy may have helped to create rules and laws that are based less on sound science than on a significant misrepresentation of facts. Ironically, by accepting these facts, we may be increasing our risk of developing food allergies.” — Rahul Parikh MD via Salon.

NB:
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The day the music died

Buddy Holly playing his Stratocaster on the Ed...

Fifty years ago today: On February 3, 1959, a small-plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, United States killed, along with the pilot of the plane, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and “The Big Bopper” (J. P. Richardson). , Twelve years later, Don McLean, in his song “American Pie” dubbed it The Day the Music Died.

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A Leap for Teleporting, Between Ions Feet Apart

The Quantum Ranger
The Quantum Ranger

However,

‘…The method is not particularly practical at the moment, because it fails almost all of the time. Only 1 of every 100 million teleportation attempts succeed, requiring 10 minutes to transfer one bit of quantum information.

“We need to work on that,” Dr. Monroe said.’ via NYTimes [thanks, abby].

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The leaderless GOP

Radio talk show host and co...

‘Sorry, Michael Steele, but it’s going to be a while before you’re anything more than the figurehead frontman of a shipwrecked Republican National Committee. Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh remain the leaders of your party, and most Republicans are happy that way. A Rasmussen poll out today found that fully 55 percent of Republicans polled think their party should be “more like” Palin.’ — Joan Walsh via Salon.

Related:
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Happy Imbolc

sunrise

‘Imbolc is one of the four principal festivals of the Irish calendar, celebrated among Gaelic peoples and some other Celtic cultures, either at the beginning of February or at the first local signs of Spring. Most commonly it is celebrated on February 2, which falls halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere. Originally dedicated to the goddess Brigid, in the Christian period it was adopted as St Brigid’s Day. In Scotland the festival is also known as Là Fhèill Brìghde, in Ireland as Lá Fhéile Bríde, and in Wales as Gwyl Fair.

Imbolc is traditionally a time of weather prognostication, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens is perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day.’ via Wikipedia.

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Give Up on Reclaiming ‘Liberal’

The Death of Socrates (1787)
David — The Death of Socrates

“To the extent that those who term themselves liberal consider themselves more open to change than the conservative, it would be within the spirit of their philosophy to open up to the true nature of human language and let liberal drift away as “the L-word.” “Reclaiming” has a good feisty ring to it, but don’t we have more important things to do–and even reclaim–than engage in a conceit so futile as to stop a word’s meaning from changing? Move On, indeed.” — John McWhorter via The New Republic.

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Adopt Lost Words to Bring Them Back From Extinction

Illustration of a scribe writing

“Every year, hundreds of words are dropped from the dictionary to make room for new words. Lexicographers spend hours researching word usage and may drop words that have been completely neglected by the society.

To reverse this trend, Oxford University Press has launched an initiative called Save the Words that aims to prevent these lesser-known English words from becoming extinct.

Here’s how. You adopt one such word through “Save the Words” and take a pledge to use that word more often in your daily conversations or written communication.

This will directly increase the chance of that word’s survival because the moment lexicographers see discarded words being used in conversations, they may re-include them in the dictionary. Wheatgrass is one such word that was reinstated after missing from the dictionary for several years.

There are hundreds of “lost” words already – vacivity, plegnic, mingent or primifluous for example – all of them, not surprisingly, failed by the Firefox spell checker as well. So go ahead, adopt bring back a nearly-extinct word. In return, you get this nifty certificate.” via Digital Inspiration.