How to prepare for the right’s gloating

Rush Limbaugh
“So, what will the right do next Tuesday when Republicans score massive gains in congressional, gubernatorial and state legislative elections? Theyll gloat, of course — and read way too much into an election outcome that, in reality, can largely be chalked up to structural factors chiefly, a gruesome economy. And theyll gleefully declare that its just the beginning — that Americans have turned on President Obama and his agenda, that hes incapable of winning them back, and that GOP White House restoration in two years is inevitable.” (via War Room – Salon.com).

Happy Samhain (Hallowe’en)

A reprise of my Hallowe’en post of past years:

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 Monday 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. (Familiar with 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 several years ago [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 Hallowe’en?”, argues as I do that reverence for Hallowe’en is good for the soul.

“Maybe at one time Hallowe’en helped exorcise fears of death and ghosts and goblins by making fun of them. Maybe, too, in a time of rigidly prescribed social behavior, Hallowe’en 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. Hallowe’en certainly inspires a backlash by fundamentalists who consider it a blasphemous abomination. ‘Amateur scholar’ Isaac Bonewits details academically the Hallowe’en 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!


Schadenfreude Dept: Republican Self-Destruction?

Tea Party Strikes Back at Rove after Palin Attack :

Levi Russell, spokesperson for the Tea Party Express: …

“The difference is that Rove is a D.C. analyst, and Sarah Palin is a leader.” Russell described Palin as “unquestionably the most electrifying figure in politics today,” while Rove “strikes me as a guy who would cross his arms and scowl at the thought of some Hollywood actor named Reagan running for Governor of California. …Personally I’ve always liked Rove, but it is painfully obvious that he is losing his connection with the American people, and no longer has his finger on the very strong pulse of the conservative movement in this country, which is fueled by the tea party and figures such as Gov. Palin.”

Karl Rove:

“There are high standards that the American people have for it [the presidency] and they require a certain level of gravitas, and they want to look at the candidate and say ‘that candidate is doing things that gives me confidence that they are up to the most demanding job in the world’…”

(via The Daily Beast)


The Next Front

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 27:  A protester hol...
Obama’s Challenge in Yemen: “Al Qaeda’s failed attack on Christmas Day has made the defeat of the organization’s franchise in Yemen a top priority for the Obama administration. Under the radar screen, the administration had already been focusing more attention and resources on Yemen and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula since Obama’s inauguration, but now that effort has rightly been shifted to the front burner. But the mission will be exceedingly difficult to accomplish, as Yemen has always been one of the world’s least-governed spaces, is deeply divided on complex and confusing sectarian and regional grounds, is armed to the teeth, and has a ruling government that is a weak partner in the fight. To make matters worse, several decades of bad U.S.-Yemeni relations have soured most Yemenis on America and made many sympathetic to al Qaeda” (via  The Daily Beast)

How to catch the ‘jihadi bug’

“[Scott Atran’s] Talking to the Enemy is recommendable not just for its vivid insights into the motivation of terrorists, but also for its study of Islamic radicalisation and the anthropology of religion in general. It is worth reading for its demolishment of many of the simplistic ideas put forward by self-declared “scientific atheists” such as Sam Harris, Steven Weinberg and Richard Dawkins, who see religion as the root of intolerance and campaign with missionary zeal for its eradication.

Dawkins has argued, for example, that suicide bombers are brainwashed in religious schools. Yet none of the 9/11 hijackers or the Madrid train-bombers attended a religious school, and the one London Underground bomber who did so attended only briefly. Indeed evidence shows that in Muslim communities the deeper a person’s religious scholarship, the less likely he or she is to be involved in jihadist activities.

The suggestion by Harris and others that the world would be less violent without religion – and especially without Islam – also looks hollow when you consider the crimes against humanity committed by atheists. Prior to 2001, for instance, one of the most prolific dispensers of suicide terrorism was the secular Tamil Tigers. In trying to understand, or predict, terrorist activity, it makes scientific sense to look beyond religion, such as to the social dynamics of particular friendship networks and the recruitment strategies of jihadist organisations whose agendas are usually avowedly political.” (via CultureLab)


Dollars For Docs

flickr pills - you should check how many you n...

Drug Co. Flattery Wins Docs, Influences Prescriptions : Part of an NPR exposé on a major way in which the pharmaceutical industry gets doctors to whore for it. It was of course obvious to me that the main purpose of funding doctors’ educational talks was to make a profit, but I was surprised (although, after listening to this series, it seems indubitable) that the major impact of enlisting a physician into a “speakers’ bureau” is to influence not the prescribing practices of his or her audiences but that of the speaker h’self.


Against Mental Pollution

Dear NASA, my name is Jeff Crouse...

“Call it advertisement hacking. Technology-inspired artists have designed ways for you to mask or perhaps even delete company logos in your field of view as you wander around a city or shopping centre.The trend subverts a technology called augmented reality ARMovie Camera, by which virtual information – say restaurant ratings – is overlain on the real world as you peer through smart glasses or a smartphone camera.New York artist Jeff Crouse has designed a program called Unlogo, which detects corporate logos in a video stream, then replaces them. The software uses a computer-vision system, normally used in robotics, to learn to recognise logos at different angles and in varied lighting. His current prototype overlays a logo with a photo of that company’s CEO.The project is still under development and does not yet run in real time, but Crouse’s goal is to produce a video filter for removing logos from, say, home movies.” (via New Scientist)

A Spray of DNA to Keep the Robbers Away

“When the McDonald’s down from City Hall [in Rotterdam] was burglarized a few years ago, its managers decided they needed a new security system

It was just about that time that local police officers were offering something totally different that they hoped would stem a rising tide of robberies that occur mainly in the immigrant neighborhoods of this rough-and-tumble port city. The new system involved an employee-activated device that sprays a fine, barely visible mist laced with synthetic DNA to cover anyone in its path, including criminals, and simultaneously alerts the police to a crime in progress.

The mist — visible only under ultraviolet light — carries DNA markers particular to the location, enabling the police to match the burglar with the place burgled. Now, a sign on the front door of the McDonald’s prominently warns potential thieves of the spray’s presence: “You Steal, You’re Marked.”

The police acknowledge that they have yet to make an arrest based on the DNA mist, which was developed in Britain by two brothers, one a policeman and the other a chemist.” (via NYTimes.com)


The Definitive Word on the Matter?

SAN FRANCISCO - JULY 24: Sal Mora talks on his...
Do cell phones cause cancer? “My random browsing of the October issue of Scientific American brought me to this nice summary graphic offered by physicist Bernard Leikind of his article in Skeptic magazine Vol. 15, no. 4 (2010). Utterly basic physical principles show that cell phones (or microwave ovens) could not cause cancer, the energy content of their emitted radiations is orders of magnitude below that required to rupture chemical bonds.” (via Deric Bownds’ MindBlog)



Pleasure in the Raw?

Ghana, is only second in the world to Côte d'I...
Image via Wikipedia

Is there really such a thing as delicious, healthy, guilt-free chocolate? Imagine my fascination… to learn of a chocolate product that promises to satisfy those of us who happen to lack self-control. Raw chocolate—the unrefined fruit of the cacao tree, without added sugar, milk or vegetable fat—is nutritionally superior to even the highest quality dark chocolate. This is because it isn’t roasted, but minimally processed at temperatures below 42 degrees Celsius (above which the nutrients of any foodstuff start to diminish). It also boasts a significantly higher antioxidant rating than almost any other food, including blueberries, and is possibly the richest dietary source of magnesium available to us. It is typically sweetened not with sugar but agave nectar, so its impact on one’s blood sugar level is gradual, unlike the intense spike and fall that comes from candy.

Raw chocolate is a true superfood—but can it ever be truly scrumptious? On unwrapping a bar of raw chocolate, the first thing that hits me is the powerful aroma, which is far more intense than a regular bar. Texturally, it is rather fudgy and mildly grainy, without the “snap” of typical chocolate. The absence of sugar, milk and vegetable fat is immediately evident, but not in a bad way. What I encounter as it gradually melts against the roof of my mouth is a slow release of pure, intense cacao. It also gives me quite a buzz, thanks to the theobromine (a natural stimulant) and caffeine content of the raw cacao. It’s no substitute for the real, roasted thing, but as a health food it makes me very happy indeed.” (via  …More Intelligent Life)



Non-Random Numbers

Random Numbers
The Magical Properties of Everyday Numbers: “…Antibiotics are a godsend, but just how many pills should God be sending? A recent study of antibiotic treatment published in a leading medical journal began by noting that “the usual treatment recommendation of 7 to 10 days for uncomplicated pneumonia is not based on scientific evidence” and went on to show that an abbreviated course of three days was every bit as effective as the usual course of eight.My doctor had recommended seven. Where in the world had seven come from?” — Daniel Gilbert (via NYTimes op-ed, with thanks to Rich



Scientists suggest that cancer is purely man-made

Coalbrookdale at night
Cancer is a modern, man-made disease caused by environmental factors such as pollution and diet, a study by University of Manchester scientists has strongly suggested.

The study of remains and literature from ancient Egypt and Greece and earlier periods – carried out at Manchester’s KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology and published in Nature Reviews Cancer – includes the first histological diagnosis of cancer in an Egyptian mummy.

Finding only one case of the disease in the investigation of hundreds of Egyptian mummies, with few references to cancer in literary evidence, proves that cancer was extremely rare in antiquity. The disease rate has risen massively since the Industrial Revolution, in particular childhood cancer – proving that the rise is not simply due to people living longer.”  (Phys.org)


World’s longest tunnel takes shape under Swiss Alps

Eastern tube in the Gotthard Base Tunnel at th...
‘”The Gotthard will forever be a spectacular and grandiose monument with which all tunnels will be compared,” said Swiss Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger.

The 57-kilometre (35.4-mile) Gotthard base tunnel will form the lynchpin of a new network between northern and southeastern Europe that could shift truck freight onto rail and decongest the Alps in central Switzerland when it opens in 2017.

Passengers will ultimately be able to speed from the Italian city of Milan to Zurich in less than three hours and further north into Germany, cutting the journey time by an hour.’ (phys.org)


Circadian Misalignment due to Mine Trapping

alarm clock, bought from IKEA
“…[T]he Chilean miners trapped inside a mine for 2 wks were finally rescued. Despite the satirical Onion post proclaiming their rescue–”Shit, How Funny Would It Be if We Died As They Finished the Tunnel’–this incident may have had long-term consequences on these miners’ “circadian” health aside from the pervasive pulmonary side effects associated with underground mining.Why? Well, when you are sitting in constant darkness for a few weeks much like my little furballs do at the end of an experiment, your internal clock overrides cues from the environment, such as your alarm clock, traffic, sunset and sunrise, that tell you when to wake up and when to sleep. And because our internal clock has a rhythm period longer than 24 hrs, these miners were probably waking up later and later each day. But then there’s also an issue of stress-related sleep deprivation here….so all we can really hypothesize is that the miners sleep and wake rhythms were pretty fracked up…” [more(Dormivigilia)

Top 20 Microscope Photos of the Year

“Having been one of the judges of the Nikon Small World competition this year, I know how many truly stunning contenders there were. Selecting the best 20 was quite a challenge. The judges, which included both journalists and scientists, spent an entire day slowly whittling the record 2,200 images down to the best. I am definitely biased, but I think the group we ended up with is the best the contest has ever seen.” (Wired Science)

Donilon: More Feared Than Loved

WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 08:  U.S. President Barac...
Tom Donilon, who succeeds Jim Jones as national security adviser, is talented at politics and managing. But his skills as a policy strategist will be sorely tested in the months ahead. “A sigh of relief went through the White House and the Obama administration today when the president named Thomas E. Donilon as the new national security adviser. It’s not that the denizens of the national security bureaucracy love Mr. Donilon; he’s been tough on them. But he is a known figure, safe and sound, and widely seen as a first-rate professional. He is the guy who as the deputy national security adviser for the past two years has made the policy trains run on time and coherently. His great strengths are as a manager of a difficult national security bureaucracy and as a keen mind on the politics of foreign policy. Most don’t see him as a foreign policy strategist, but he fully understands strategy and is now committed to framing and putting strategies in place.

Mr. Donilon was the odds-on favorite to succeed General James Jones, the outgoing national security adviser. General Jones is actually happy to be leaving. The job really wasn’t the best fit for him. He’s not a politician or a strategist, and he did not fit in with the Obama crowd. He became passive and isolated. It was quite sad. The general had been an outstanding Commandant of the Marine Corps and NATO’s chief commander. He was widely respected and admired in all his previous roles.

The president and his team expected that General Jones’ remarkable standing in the military and in conservative circles would protect President Obama’s right flank. They expected him to explain the president’s policies to the military, and to keep the generals in line. Things just didn’t work that way. It seemed as if the general just lost heart to be a major player.

Tom Donilon, on the other hand, was charged with running the inter-agency meetings process—and virtually everyone felt that he alone was responsible for getting things done and for whatever coherence there was to the administration’s foreign policy. In this capacity, Mr. Donilon was already actually chairing meetings where the secretaries of State and Defense and other cabinet-level officials participated. In other words, the top people in the administration are already used to Donilon’s running the meetings.” (The Daily Beast)


Want to Prevent Gay Teen Suicide?

Legalize Marriage Equality: “It’s a simple, marvelous, and very 21st century idea. For all the gay kids that people like Maggie Gallagher and Ann Coulter have sentenced to death by helping to promote a climate of fear, bigotry, and bullying, if even one kid’s life is saved by seeing one of the It Gets Better videos, Savage’s project is worthwhile. When you’re growing up gay in a mostly straight world, even one more piece of the puzzle — like the message that you, too, are worthy of love that lasts a lifetime — can make all the difference.” — Steve Silberman (NeuroTribes)

Field Researchers Discover a Language New to Science

Basar - Arunachal Pradesh
“In the foothills of the Himalayas, two field linguists have uncovered a find as rare as any endangered species—a language completely new to science.The researchers encountered it for the first time along the western ridges of Arunachal Pradesh, India’s northeastern-most state, where more than 120 languages are spoken. There, isolated by craggy slopes and rushing rivers, the hunters and subsistence farmers who speak this rare tongue live in a dozen or so villages of bamboo houses built on stilts.” (WSJ.com)

If You Want to Catch a Liar, Make Him Draw

high-angle shot; bird's eye view
Liars stumble when they can’t verbalize their lies: “…[S]ignificantly more truth tellers included the “agent” (other person in the situation) in their drawings than did liars (80% vs. 13%). In addition, significantly more truth tellers drew from a shoulder-camera view than liars, who by in large drew from an overhead view (53% vs. 19%). In verbal statements, more truth tellers also mentioned the agent than liars (53% vs. 19%).

Using the “sketching the agent” result alone, it was possible to identify 80% of the truth tellers and 87% of the liars–results superior to most traditional interview techniques.

The main reason drawing seems to be effective in identifying liars is that they have less time to work out the details. Someone who is telling the truth already has a visual image of where they were and what happened (even if it’s not perfect, which of course it never is), but liars have to manufacture the details. It’s easier to concoct something verbally than to first visualize and then create it on paper.” (Psychology Today)



Side Effects May Include Lawsuits

A research campus operated by Bristol-Myers Sq...
Antipsychotic Drugs: “For decades, antipsychotic drugs were a niche product. Today, they’re the top-selling class of pharmaceuticals in America, generating annual revenue of about $14.6 billion and surpassing sales of even blockbusters like heart-protective statins.

While the effectiveness of antipsychotic drugs in some patients remains a matter of great debate, how these drugs became so ubiquitous and profitable is not. Big Pharma got behind them in the 1990s, when they were still seen as treatments for the most serious mental illnesses, like hallucinatory schizophrenia, and recast them for much broader uses, according to previously confidential industry documents that have been produced in a variety of court cases.

Anointed with names like Abilify and Geodon, the drugs were given to a broad swath of patients, from preschoolers to octogenarians. Today, more than a half-million youths take antipsychotic drugs, and fully one-quarter of nursing-home residents have used them. Yet recent government warnings say the drugs may be fatal to some older patients and have unknown effects on children.

The new generation of antipsychotics has also become the single biggest target of the False Claims Act, a federal law once largely aimed at fraud among military contractors. Every major company selling the drugs — Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — has either settled recent government cases for hundreds of millions of dollars or is currently under investigation for possible health care fraud.

Two of the settlements, involving charges of illegal marketing, set records last year for the largest criminal fines ever imposed on corporations….”  (NYTimes.com).


Time-Warping Occurs in Daily Life

Alternative version of image:Wooden hourglass ...
‘Exploring the peculiar effects of Einstein’s relativity is no longer rocket science. Tabletop experiments at a lab in Colorado have illustrated the odd behavior of time, a strangeness typically probed with space travel and jet planes.

Using superprecise atomic clocks, scientists have witnessed time dilation — the bizarre speeding up or slowing down of time described by Einstein’s theories of relativity. The experiments are presented in the Sept. 24 Science.

“Modern technology has gotten so precise you can see these exotic effects in the range of your living room,” says physicist Clifford Will of Washington University in St. Louis. The experiments don’t reveal any new physics, Will says, but “what makes it cute and pretty cool is they have done it on a tabletop.” ‘ (Wired.com).


Going Mental

Brain CT scan in a patient with Fahr's syndrome.
How Neuroscience Is Changing the Law: “As leading-edge neuroimaging labs use scanners to reveal more and more details about how the brain works, their findings are increasingly affecting other fields as well. The legal system, in particular, is now being forced to assess the potential implications of new information about how issues relating to crime and punishment are processed in the brain.” (Big Think.)

Unhear it

“Get that damn song out of your head! We created this site for those of you that have a song stuck in your head and you can’t get it out no matter what you do. Using the latest in reverse-auditory-melodic-unstickification technology, we’ve been able to allow our users to “unhear” songs by hearing equally catchy songs. So really all we’re doing is making you forget your old song by replacing it with another one… sorry.” (Unhear it)