Saturn’s moon Rhea may have a breathable atmosphere

Cassini color image of Rhea taken Jan. 16, 200...
Saturn’s icy moon Rhea has an oxygen and carbon dioxide atmosphere that is very similar to Earth’s. Even better, the carbon dioxide suggests there’s life – and that possibly humans could breathe the air.

It seems oxygen is far more abundant than we ever suspected, particularly on moons that seem to be completely frozen solid. We recently found evidence of oxygen on Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede, and now this finding on Rhea. In fact, because the region of space surrounding Saturn’s rings has an oxygen atmosphere, it’s thought even more of the icy moons within the gas giant’s magnetosphere likely have little atmospheres of their own.” (io9)


“Starstruck”: How vapid celebrity took over the world

Paris Hilton
Cover of Paris Hilton
‘Over the past decade, “celebrity” has undergone a massive transformation: The rise of reality television, the Internet and social networking have meant that more people are becoming famous, for shorter periods of time, for doing less than ever before. Two decades ago, it would have been unthinkable that a woman like Snooki — a woman of no discernible talent or taste — could become a household name. And yet, there she is, waving for the camera and launching her own personalized slipper line.

As Elizabeth Currid-Halkett explains in her fascinating, well-researched new book, Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity, recent developments in the celebrity industry can tell us a great deal about our changing global culture. In an era in which more and more people are feeling alienated from their peers, stars give us a common language and allow a greater degree of social cohesion. They also fuel enormous industries — celebrity-driven occupations generate $1.5 billion in salary in Los Angeles alone. Elsewhere in the book, Currid-Halkett, the author of The Warhol Economy and an assistant professor at the University of Southern California, uses party photographs and Google to draw fascinating conclusions about the geography and social stratification of the celebrity world (Note to Angelina Jolie: Getting photographed in Las Vegas might actually hurt your fame).

Salon spoke to Currid-Halkett over the phone from Los Angeles, about our changing star culture, our obsession with celebrity minutiae, and why Paris Hilton actually deserves our respect.’ (Salon.com).



Sarah of the wild frontier

‘It seems so quaint, doesn’t it, this idea that a viable presidential candidate would concentrate on policy, would make the rounds on Meet the Press and 60 Minutes, would, if defeated in a general election, return to office and serve out their term.Yet here is Palin, who quit her job as governor of Alaska in 2009, with her husband, Todd, on Dancing with the Stars, supporting her arrhythmic teenage daughter, Bristol, who inexplicably gets through rounds week after week. She tweets and is on Facebook, weighing in on everything from the mosque at Ground Zero “refudiate it!” to the Fed’s policy while plugging her myraid projects, including this Tuesday’s publication of her new book, America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag.

She has built a television studio in her house in Wasilla so that she can loop into Fox News broadcasts — she earns $1 million a year as a commentator — at will. She is the first former office-holder and vice-presidential candidate to star in her own reality show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, for which she is earning $2 million and which debuted last week on TLC to record-breaking numbers. Five million people watched, making it the highest-rated premiere in the channel’s history.

These are branding opportunities that, even a few years ago, would’ve been considered too down-market and damaging for a potential presidential candidate. They are working.’ (NYPOST.com)


The world’s greatest bookshops

“Bookshops are a traveller’s best friend: they provide convenient shelter and diversion in bad weather, they’re a reliable source of maps, notebooks, and travel guides, they often host readings and other cultural events, and if you raced through your lone paperback on the first leg of your trip, the bookshop is the place to go for literary replenishment. Taken from Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2011, here are our picks for the best spots to browse, buy, hang out, find sanctuary among the shelves, rave about your favourite writers and meet book-loving characters.” (Lonely Planet via Matthias )


How many of these have you visited? I have been in three of the ten, bookshop aficionado as I am.


There is an Irony Mark in Punctuation

Arabic Question mark
Image via Wikipedia
“Today I found out there is an irony mark in punctuation. The irony mark specifically is a backwards question mark: ؟This mark was originally proposed by the 19th century French poet Alcanter de Brahm, also knownas Marcel Bernhardt. Around the same time other “second level” punctuation marks were proposed. For instance, Tara Liloia and Josh Greenman suggested a “sarcasm mark” should be added to common punctuation.Later, Herve Bazin, in his book, Plumons l’Oiseau in 1966, used this irony mark and also suggested several other new punctuation marks including the doubt point, certitude point, acclamation point, authority point, indignation point, and love point.Though the irony mark isn’t widely used or commonly known, it is used occasionally in mostly obscure literary works. In order to help it become more widely adopted, it has been recently suggested that the “irony mark” should be expanded to also include such things as “sarcasm” and “satire” and similar such notions.” (Today I Found Out via Matthias)



Full-body scanners: they’re not just a dumb idea, they don’t actually work

Wenger Swiss Army knife, closed
Image via Wikipedia
German TV on the Failure of Full-Body Scanners: “The video is worth watching, even if you don’t speak German. The scanner caught a subject’s cell phone and Swiss Army knife — and the microphone he was wearing — but missed all the components to make a bomb that he hid on his body. Admittedly, he only faced the scanner from the front and not from the side. But he also didn’t hide anything in a body cavity other than his mouth — I didn’t think about that one — he didn’t use low density or thinly sliced PETN, and he didn’t hide anything in his carry-on luggage.” (via Schneier on Security)



Should the Law that Protects Against Upskirt Filming Protect Against TSA Body Scanners?

Cover of "Scanners"
Cover of Scanners

The Not-So Private Parts: “One of the interesting claims in the current brief that was not included in EPIC’s original request for a stay is the allegation of a violation of the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act. That would be the law passed by Congress in 2004 that is used, in part, to fight upskirt filming. The Act [PDF] prohibits the filming of private parts — it makes an exception for cleavage — when individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy, even if they are in a public place.

The law specifies that it applies in “circumstances in which a reasonable person would believe that a private area of the individual would not be visible to the public, regardless of whether that person is in a public or private place.” So if people know that their private areas are visible, does the law apply? If there are representational avatars instead of real naked people — a software fix devised by scanner makers L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. and OSI Systems Inc. — does it apply?

These questions and the constitutional privacy issues raised by the scanners will be hashed out soon enough. The government will be filing its reply brief by December 1, and then the case should move on to oral arguments. If the court were to rule in EPIC’s favor, the TSA will have to “revise its airport screening program so that it complies with federal law,” says EPIC president Marc Rotenberg.”  (via Kashmir Hill – Forbes)


News flash: Deadly terrorism existed before 9/11…

Number of terrorist incidents for 2009 (Januar...
Number of 2009 terrorist incidents

without the hysteria: “Here’s a scenario:

Middle Eastern terrorists hijack a U.S. jetliner bound for Italy. A two-week drama ensues in which the plane’s occupants are split into groups and held hostage in secret locations in Lebanon and Syria.

While this drama is unfolding, another group of terrorists detonates a bomb in the luggage hold of a 747 over the North Atlantic, killing more than 300 people.

Not long afterward, terrorists kill 19 people and wound more than a hundred others in coordinated attacks at European airport ticket counters.

A few months later, a U.S. airliner is bombed over Greece, killing four passengers.

Five months after that, another U.S. airliner is stormed by heavily armed terrorists at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan, killing at least 20 people and wounding 150 more.

Things are quiet for a while, until two years later when a 747 bound for New York is blown up over Europe killing 270 passengers and crew.

Nine months from then, a French airliner en route to Paris is bombed over Africa, killing 170 people from 17 countries.

That’s a pretty macabre fantasy, no? A worst-case war-game scenario for the CIA? A script for the End Times? Except, of course, that everything above actually happened, in a four-year span between 1985 and 1989. The culprits were the al-Qaidas of their time: groups like the Abu Nidal Organization and the Arab Revolutionary Cells, and even the government of Libya…

I bring all of this up for a couple of reasons.

If nothing else, it demonstrates how quickly we forget the past. Our memories are short, and growing shorter, it seems, all the time. Our collective consciousness seems to reinvent itself daily, cobbled from a media blitz of short-order blurbs and 30-second segments. There will be a heavy price to pay, potentially, for having developed such a shallow and fragile mind-set.

With respect to airport security, it is remarkable how we have come to place Sept. 11, 2001, as the fulcrum upon which we balance almost all of our decisions. As if deadly terrorism didn’t exist prior to that day, when really we’ve been dealing with the same old threats for decades. What have we learned? What have we done?” (via Ask the Pilot – Salon)


Wis. man shoots TV after Palin dance

“MADISON — Prosecutors say a rural Wisconsin man blasted his TV with a shotgun after watching Bristol Palin’s “Dancing with the Stars” routine, sparking an all-night standoff with a SWAT team.

According to court documents, 67-year-old Steven Cowan became enraged while watching Palin dance on Monday evening. He felt Palin was not a good dancer…” (via Wausau Daily Herald)


Watching the Leonid Meteor Shower

A meteor during the peak of the 2009 Leonid Me...
Image via Wikipedia

“The Leonid meteor shower rolls through the sky once a year, peaking in mid-November. It’s caused by a trail of debris that travels along the orbit of the comet Tempel-Tuttle.The 2010 Leonid meteor shower runs from Wednesday, Nov. 10, through Sunday, Nov. 21. The peak will be the nights between the 17th and the 19th.The Leonids are famous for being spectacular storms — since the orbit of the Temple-Tuttle comet intersects with that of Earth, the debris cloud our planet passes through each year is dense and full of particles and meteoroids. In optimal viewing conditions on a good year, you can see between 15 and 30 meteors per hour streaking across the sky during the peak.” (via Wired How-To Wiki)



Happy Birthday

‘Follow Me Here’ celebrates 11 years of weblogging today.Yes, eleven years. I once was totally cutting edge, I fancied! In any case, many thanks to my loyal readers, new and old.

Why don’t you leave a comment telling me what you found to be the most memorable FmH post of the past year? or the most unmemorable (grin)?

It is also the 11th blogiversary of Kevin Murphy’s Ghost in the Machine, the ‘blog twin’ of FmH. All the best, Kevin! And many happy returns.


Democrats didn’t lose the battle of 2010

Universal health care
universal healthcare
William Saletan: “I’m not buying the autopsy or the obituary. In the national exit poll, voters were split on health care. Unemployment is at nearly 10 percent. Democrats lost a lot of seats that were never really theirs, and those who voted against the bill lost at a higher rate than did those who voted for it. But if health care did cost the party its majority, so what? The bill was more important than the election.” (via Slate)

U.S. College Degrees by County

“Americans are better educated now than ever, but the distribution of people with college degrees is growing increasingly unequal,” write Roberto Gallardo and Bill Bishop in the Daily Yonder. “And the clustering of people with higher education is creating greater disparities in regional incomes and unemployment.” Their article includes three U.S. county maps showing how much above or below the national average each county has been in terms of number of adults with a college degree since 1990. (via The Map Room)



Congratulations, Steve

Steve Silberman
Steve Silberman
On Winning a 2010 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award: “I’m delighted and humbled to learn that my story, The Placebo Problem, published in the September 2009 issue of Wired, is the winner of this year’s Kavli Science Journalism award for a magazine feature. I’m grateful to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — the biggest professional society for scientists in the world and publishers of the esteemed journal Science — for this distinguished honor…

My story is about the surprising power of the placebo effect — what happens in the brain and body when you think you’re taking medicine or receiving treatment — and the problems in the pharmaceutical industry caused by the increasing number of experimental drugs that are failing in clinical trials to outperform dummy pills used as controls.

It’s always gratifying to see a story you’ve worked hard on be embraced by readers, linked to by other journalists, and recognized by a venerable institution like the AAAS. Even Stephen Colbert ended up riffing on the seemingly absurd notion that sugar pills could perform better in a trial than an expensive experimental drug…”

Steve Silberman (NeuroTribes)

Although my praise is not as important as that of the AAAS, I too found the piece lucid and important. Perhaps that is because it agrees with my own biases; I have often said that most of healing relies on the placebo effect, i.e. mobilizing the body and mind’s own powers.


Having Come This Far

I’ve been through what my through was to be
I did what I could and couldn’t
I was never sure how I would get there

I nourished an ardor for thresholds
for stepping stones and for ladders
I discovered detour and ditch

I swam in the high tides of greed
I built sandcastles to house my dreams
I survived the sunburns of love

No longer do I hunt for targets
I’ve climbed all the summits I need to
and I’ve eaten my share of lotus

Now I give praise and thanks
for what could not be avoided
and for every foolhardy choice

I cherish my wounds and their cures
and the sweet enervations of bliss
My book is an open life

I wave goodbye to the absolutes
and send my regards to infinity
I’d rather be blithe than correct

Until something transcendent turns up
I splash in my poetry puddle
and try to keep God amused.

~ James Broughton


Remember, remember the fifth of November


Happy Guy Fawkes Night: “Guy Fawkes Night originates from the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a failed conspiracy by a group of provincial English Catholics to assassinate the Anglican King James I of England and VI of Scotland and replace him with a Catholic head of state. The survival of the king was first celebrated on 5 November 1605, after Guy Fawkes, left in charge of the gunpowder placed underneath the House of Lords, was discovered and arrested.

The same month the surviving conspirators were executed, in January 1606 the Observance of 5th November Act 1605, commonly known as the “Thanksgiving Act” was passed, ensuring that for more than 250 years 5 November was kept free as a day of thanksgiving. According to historian and author Antonia Fraser, a study of the sermons preached on the first anniversary of 5 November demonstrates an anti-Catholic concentration “mystical in its fervour”. Each anniversary of the plot’s failure was for years celebrated by the ringing of church bells, special sermons, and the lighting of bonfires. Further controversies such as the marriage of Charles I to the Catholic Henrietta Maria of France and the 1679 Popish Plot helped fuel the popularity of the events, which at times became a celebration not of the deliverance of a monarch, but of anti-Papist sentiment…

Historically the date has been celebrated by the burning of effigies of contemporary hate-figures… Some modern instances of burning effigies exist; in Lewes in 1994 revellers immolated the effigies of politicians such as Margaret Thatcher and John Major, alongside Fawkes.” (via Wikipedia)


Do Believe the Hype

Mount Everest North Face as seen from the path...

This is not the point of Thomas Friedman’s op-ed piece, but it is the interesting part:

The Hindustan Times carried a small news item the other day that, depending on your perspective, is good news or a sign of the apocalypse. It reported that a Nepali telecommunications firm had just started providing third-generation mobile network service, or 3G, at the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, to “allow thousands of climbers and trekkers who throng the region every year access to high-speed Internet and video calls using their mobile phones.” ‘ (via NYTimes.com).

Obama: Stop funding Indonesian torture of Papuans

“Survival is asking President Obama, who is due to visit Indonesia next week, to suspend US military assistance to Jakarta until its forces stop killing and torturing the people of West Papua.

Obama’s visit comes shortly after the emergence of shocking video footage showing Indonesian soldiers torturing two villagers in the West Papuan highlands. The Indonesian government has admitted that the torturers were its soldiers.

Controversially, in July this year, the Obama administration lifted its ban on assistance to Indonesia’s notorious elite special forces, Kopassus. Kopassus had been barred from receiving US military aid for more than a decade because of human-rights abuses including killings, disappearances and torture.

The President, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, will make his first official visit to the country since taking office.” (via Survival International)


Bush thought about taking Cheney off 2004 ticket

Beavis & Butt-head as George W. Bush & Dick Cheny
Former President George W. Bush says in his new memoir that he considered running for re-election in 2004 without Dick Cheney as his vice presidential candidate. After much thought, he ultimately decided to keep Cheney on the ticket.

Bush said he wanted to put an end to assertions by critics that Cheney was the real decision-maker and to “demonstrate that I was in charge.” ‘ (via The Associated Press)

(Yes, the puppeteer allows the puppet to think about cutting his strings.)


Why your brain craves Beethoven

Picture of Ludwig van Beethoven
“We all know that music has the power to move us, to trigger a staggering range of emotions, tell stories, calm us, make us dance, make us cry – but how, exactly, does music do it? A special performance called “Beethoven and Your Brain” explored that question earlier this week in front of a sell-out audience at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall in Toronto. The event was billed as a “first-of-its-kind partnership” between an orchestra, a conductor and a neuroscientist.

The neuroscientist was Daniel Levitin, a psychologist at McGill University and author of the bestsellers This is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs. He was joined onstage by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and its conductor, Edwin Outwater. Together they took the audience a guided tour of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, perhaps the best-known work in the Western musical canon. Audience members were given electronic “clickers” with which they could respond to Levitin’s questions and voice their own reactions to what was being played; the results were displayed on a giant screen in real time.” (via New Scientist CultureLab)