In Defense of Deficits

"View in Wall Street from Corner of Broad...

James K. Galbraith in The Nation: ‘The Simpson-Bowles Commission, just established by the president, will no doubt deliver an attack on Social Security and Medicare dressed up in the sanctimonious rhetoric of deficit reduction. (Back in his salad days, former Senator Alan Simpson was a regular schemer to cut Social Security.) The Obama spending freeze is another symbolic sacrifice to the deficit gods. Most observers believe neither will amount to much, and one can hope that they are right. But what would be the economic consequences if they did? The answer is that a big deficit-reduction program would destroy the economy, or what remains of it, two years into the Great Crisis.

For this reason, the deficit phobia of Wall Street, the press, some economists and practically all politicians is one of the deepest dangers that we face. It’s not just the old and the sick who are threatened; we all are.’


R.I.P. Alice Miller

Psychoanalyst Who Laid Human Problems to Parental Actsis Dead at 87. “Dr. Miller caused a sensation with the English publication in 1981 of her first book, “The Drama of the Gifted Child.” Originally titled “Prisoners of Childhood,” it set forth, in three essays, a simple but harrowing proposition. All children, she wrote, suffer trauma and permanent psychic scarring at the hands of parents, who enforce codes of conduct through psychological pressure or corporal punishment: slaps, spankings or, in extreme cases, sustained physical abuse and even torture.

Unable to admit the rage they feel toward their tormenters, Dr. Miller contended, these damaged children limp along through life, weighed down by depression and insecurity, and pass the abuse along to the next generation, in an unending cycle. Some, in a pathetic effort to please their parents and serve their needs, distinguish themselves in the arts or professions. The Stalins and the Hitlers, Dr. Miller later wrote, inflict their childhood traumas on millions.” (New York Times obituary)

Miller stopped practicing psychoanalysis, convinced that the relationship between the analyst and patient replicates the oppressive and abusive parental relationship. Of course, Freudians would say that that is a product of the patient’s ‘transference’ to the analyst of their attitudes toward powerful figures from their formative years, and that working with the transference forms the basis of the analytic ‘cure’. But Miller felt it was a real and inescapable power relationship as well, or instead. Reading Miller, for many, connected them with notions of victimhood and oppression in their lives and irrevocably altered their attitudes toward rearing their own children.


The Top 13 Hidden Tracks

Cover of "Abbey Road (Remastered)"

‘The hidden track dates all the way back to The Beatles’ Abbey Road, which includes “Her Majesty,” a 23-second unlisted song at the end of the album’s second side. Since then, many bands have surprised their fans with secret songs, though many of them are merely discordant noise or otherwise eminently forgettable. Sometimes, though, these tracks are hidden gems that deserve to be heard. For that reason, we decided to put together a list of the very best hidden tracks, and listened to dozens of them to find the standouts.’ (The Top 13)


Stephen Hawking warns over making contact with aliens

Stephen Hawking

Aliens almost certainly exist but humans should avoid making contact, Professor Stephen Hawking has warned.

In a series for the Discovery Channel the renowned astrophysicist said it was “perfectly rational” to assume intelligent life exists elsewhere.

But he warned that aliens might simply raid Earth for resources, then move on.

“If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans,” he said.

Prof Hawking thinks that, rather than actively trying to communicate with extra-terrestrials, humans should do everything possible to avoid contact.

He explained: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.” (BBC)


I’m Not Hanging Noodles on your Ears


My friend Julia Suits, New Yorker cartoonist, just sent me a copy of this book by Jag Bhalla, of which she is the illustrator. I don’t know if Julia knows of my fascination with linguistic curiosities but this is right up my browsing alley. It is a delightful book, all about idioms from other cultures. I recall one of my favorite browsing books, Howard Rheingold‘s They Have a Word for It, about untranslatable concepts other cultures embody in native words. Bhalla turned my head when he pointed out in the introduction to the present volume that idioms are essentially expressions that are untranslatable in their own language!

And Suits’ wonderful illustrations, with their absurd and at times surreal literality, are perfect amplifications of the incongruity Bhalla sets out to depict.


iPad not kosher?

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

‘Israel has banned all iPad imports — yes, that means even bringing one on business or vacation — over concerns that higher-powered wireless receivers and transmitters in the device may disrupt national networks.

‘The iPad will be device non grata in Israel until authorities certify that the computers comply with local standards. About 10 unlucky iPad owners have had the devices confiscated so far. Visitors see their devices held in custody — racking up fines — until they depart the country.

‘“If you operate equipment in a frequency band which is different from the others that operate on that frequency band, then there will be interference,” Nati Schubert, a senior deputy director for the Communications Ministry told AP. “We don’t care where people buy their equipment … but without regulation, you would have chaos.”

‘The problem is in the juice: the U.S. Federal Communications Commission allows Wi-Fi broadcasting at higher power levels than permitted in Europe and Israel. Concerns are that the stronger signal could consume too much bandwidth, or throw off other wireless connections.

‘Israel is the only country so far to officially ban imports although the report stated that many European countries have the same standards and could run into similar problems.’ (Cult of Mac)


Richard Dawkins calls for arrest of Pope

Richard Dawkins

‘Richard Dawkins, the atheist campaigner, is planning a legal ambush to have the Pope arrested during his state visit to Britain “for crimes against humanity”.’ (Times.UK)


Dawkins feels this is abit inaccurate:

‘Needless to say, I did NOT say “I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI” or anything so personally grandiloquent. So all the vicious attacks on me for seeking publicity etc are misplaced. The headline is, in fact, a barefaced lie.

Marc Horne, the Sunday Times reporter, telephoned me out of the blue and asked whether I was aware of the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope’s visit. Yes, I said. He asked me if I was in favour of their initiative. Yes, I said, I am strongly in favour of it. Beyond that, I declined to comment to Marc Horne, other than to refer him to my ‘Ratzinger is the Perfect Pope’ article here: http://richarddawkins.net/articles/5341
How the headline writer could go from there to “Richard Dawkins: I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI” is obscure to me.

The history is as follows. Christopher Hitchens first proposed to me the idea of a legal challenge to the Pope’s visit on March 14th. I responded enthusiastically, and suggested the name of a high profile human rights lawyer whom I know. I had lost her address, however, and set about tracking her down. Meanwhile, Christopher made the brilliant suggestion of Geoffrey Robertson. He approached him, and Mr Robertson’s subsequent ‘Put the Pope in the Dock’ article in The Guardian shows him to be ideal:
The case is obviously in good hands, with him and Mark Stephens. I am especially intrigued by the proposed challenge to the legality of the Vatican as a sovereign state whose head can claim diplomatic immunity.

Even if the Pope doesn’t end up in the dock, and even if the Vatican doesn’t cancel the visit, I am optimistic that we shall raise public consciousness to the point where the British government will find it very awkward indeed to go ahead with the Pope’s visit, let alone pay for it.’


Airline considers fee for lavatory use

Attérissage d'un avion de Ryanair à Dublin

‘Ryanair, which is based in Dublin, Ireland, and bills itself as “Europe’s first and largest low fares airline,” is mulling a plan that would require travelers to pay either 1 euro or 1 British pound (about $1.33 or $1.52) for using the bathroom on flights lasting one hour or less.’ (CNN.com)


Your credit card bill can tell ’em how likely you are to get divorced

Visa Debit logo

‘By scrutinizing your purchases, credit companies try to figure out if your life is about to change—so they’ll know what to sell you.If you ever doubted the power of the credit card companies, consider this: Visa, the world’s largest credit card network, can predict how likely you are to get a divorce. There’s no consumer-protection legislation for that.’ (The Daily Beast)


What Does Palinspeak Mean?

119/365 - dunce

‘It’s not quite Bushspeak, which, with the likes of “I know what it’s like to put food on my family,” was replete with flagrantly misplaced words with a frequency that made for guesses, not completely in jest, that he might suffer from a mild form of Wernicke’s aphasia, interfering with matching word shapes to meanings. (Bush the father wasn’t much better in this regard—there just wasn’t an internet to make collecting the slips and spreading them around so easy.)

Rather, Palin is given to meandering phraseology of a kind suggesting someone more commenting on impressions as they enter and leave her head rather than constructing insights about them. Or at least, insights that go beyond the bare-bones essentials of human cognition — an entity (i.e. something) and a predicate (i.e. something about it).

The easy score is to flag this speech style as a sign of moronism. But we have to be careful — there is a glass houses issue here. Before parsing Palinspeak we have to understand the worldwide difference between spoken and written language — and the fact that in highly literate societies, we tend to have idealized visions of how close our speech supposedly is to the written ideal.

Namely, linguists have shown that spoken utterances — even by educated people (that is, even you) — average seven to ten words. We speak in little packets. And the result is much baggier than we think of language as being, because we live under the artificial circumstance of engaging language so much on the page, artificially enshrined, embellished, and planned out. That’s something only about 200 languages out of 6000 have been subjected to in any real way, and widespread literacy is a human condition only a few centuries old in most places.’ (The New Republic)


Scientists Discover How to Turn Ordinary T-Shirts Into Body Armor

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‘…Scientists have developed a way of bulking up an ordinary T-shirt to create wearable armor. By splicing the carbon in the cotton with boron, the third hardest material on the planet, researchers at the University of South Carolina markedly increased the fabric’s toughness. The result is a lightweight shirt reinforced with boron carbide—the same material used to shield military tanks.’ (Ecouterre)

I don’t know why, but I want one of these.


Fiesta of Near Death Experiences

public domain art by Bosch, from: http://www.w...

Santa Marta de Ribarteme: ‘Religious pilgrimages have been a part of Spanish life since the time of the Crusades, but none are as outrageous as the one that takes place today in the small northwestern town of Las Nieves. The action that unfolds today can hardly be believed. “Near death” and real life merge together in a surreal stew of Catholicism and Paganism in honor of Saint Marta de Ribarteme, the patron of resurrection.
In short, the pilgrimage is specifically for those who have had a near-death experience in the past year. These lucky folk pay their respects to Santa Marta by carrying (or riding in!) a coffin into the church to hear mass.
Thousands of people pour into this tiny town, and by 10am the streets are clogged with believers and gawkers. The coffins begin to arrive, borne by solemnly-dressed relatives carrying their lucky loved ones who have recently escaped death, and lugged by old men without families, who must carry their own coffins towards the small granite church of Santa Marta de Ribarteme. Mass begins around noon and is broadcast with loudspeakers outside of the sanctuary so the crowd outside can hear (the mass is then re-broadcast throughout the day in case you arrive late).

When the mass is complete, the church bells ring and a procession of coffins starts up the hill toward the nearby cemetery and then back to circle several times around the church. The people begin to chant “Virgin Santa Marta, star of the North, we bring you those who saw death,” as a large statue of the saint is removed from the church and carried along with the coffins. The image of Santa Marta has her right hand raised to hold a cascade of money “offerings” to help protect those who have recently escaped entering the “dark mansion called death.” ‘ (Entertainment Spain)


US to adopt narrower policy on using nuclear arms

WMD world map

More evidence the Obama administration has its priorities right, although not right enough: “The Obama administration is adopting a new policy limiting the circumstances under which the U.S. would use nuclear weapons, keeping with the president’s pledge to give the nuclear arsenal a less prominent role in U.S. defense strategy.” (Yahoo! News)


“They don’t know that we know they know we know.”

Image of the human head with the brain. The ar...

Next Big Thing in Literary Theory: ‘At a time when university literature departments are confronting painful budget cuts, a moribund job market and pointed scrutiny about the purpose and value of an education in the humanities, the cross-pollination of English and psychology is a providing a revitalizing lift.

Jonathan Gottschall, who has written extensively about using evolutionary theory to explain fiction, said “it’s a new moment of hope” in an era when everyone is talking about “the death of the humanities.” To Mr. Gottschall a scientific approach can rescue literature departments from the malaise that has embraced them over the last decade and a half. Zealous enthusiasm for the politically charged and frequently arcane theories that energized departments in the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s — Marxism, structuralism, psychoanalysis — has faded. Since then a new generation of scholars have been casting about for The Next Big Thing.

The brain may be it. Getting to the root of people’s fascination with fiction and fantasy, Mr. Gottschall said, is like “mapping wonderland.” (New York Times )


Neurological problems of jazz legends [J Child Neurol. 2009]

Charlie Parker

Abstract: “A variety of neurological problems have affected the lives of giants in the jazz genre. Cole Porter courageously remained prolific after severe leg injuries secondary to an equestrian accident, until he succumbed to osteomyelitis, amputations, depression, and phantom limb pain. George Gershwin resisted explanations for uncinate seizures and personality change and herniated from a right temporal lobe brain tumor, which was a benign cystic glioma. Thelonious Monk had erratic moods, reflected in his pianism, and was ultimately mute and withdrawn, succumbing to cerebrovascular events. Charlie Parker dealt with mood lability and drug dependence, the latter emanating from analgesics following an accident, and ultimately lived as hard as he played his famous bebop saxophone lines and arpeggios. Charles Mingus hummed his last compositions into a tape recorder as he died with motor neuron disease. Bud ‘Powell had severe posttraumatic headaches after being struck by a police stick defending Thelonious Monk during a Harlem club raid.’ Neurological problems of jazz legends. (J Child Neurol. 2009)


Get Your War On

An AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter from 1st B...

Collateral Murder: ‘WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad — including two Reuters news staff.

Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.’


Philip Pullman creates a darker Christ in new assault on the church

Philip Pullman

‘In the bestselling His Dark Materials books, author Philip Pullman depicted the church as a corrupt and murderous bureaucracy and God as senile, frail and impotent. And, despite condemnation by the Christian right, Pullman has now taken on the Gospels directly. In his new story, he writes that Jesus had a manipulative twin brother, Christ, who tempted him in the wilderness and betrayed him to the authorities.’ (Guardian.UK)


The Vigilantes of Comedy

Pearce took this picture at Niagara Falls in e...

Thanks to walker for pointing me, in response to my reflections on the “Niagara Falls” skits below, to this New York Times piece by two copyright lawyers on an escalating dispute between two comedians over the theft of a joke. Intellectual property law is not very useful in the world of stand-up comedy. Rights to clever jokes are enforced by complex and well-worked-out social norms instead of (and sometimes in contravention of) the law.

“Comedians provide a fascinating picture of how some creative communities depend on informal rules of conduct, rather than legal rules, to maintain adequate incentives to create new work.”