To Profile or Not to Profile?

English: Bruce Schneier at CFP 2007: Open pane...
Bruce Schneier

English: Sam Harris
Sam Harris

A thoughtful debate between Sam Harris and Bruce Schneier. In the end, Schneier succinctly summarizes what is wrong with racial profiling:

“There are other security concerns when you look at the geopolitical

context, though. Profiling Muslims fosters an “us vs. them” thinking

that simply isn’t accurate when talking about terrorism. I have always

thought that the “war on terror” metaphor was actively harmful to

security because it raised the terrorists to the level of equal

combatant. In a war, there are sides, and there is winning. I much

prefer the crime metaphor. There are no opposing sides in crime; there

are the few criminals and the rest of us. There criminals don’t “win.”

Maybe they get away with it for a while, but eventually they’re caught.

“Us vs. them” thinking has two basic costs. One, it establishes that

worldview in the minds of “us”: the non-profiled. We saw this after

9/11, in the assaults and discriminations against innocent Americans who

happened to be Muslim. And two, it establishes the same worldview in

the minds of “them”: Muslims. This increases anti-American sentiment

among Muslims. This reduces our security, less because it creates

terrorists—although I’m sure it is one of the things that pushes a

marginal terrorist over the line—and more that a higher anti-American

sentiment in the Muslim community is a more fertile ground for terrorist

groups to recruit and operate. Making sure the vast majority of

Muslims who are not terrorists are part of the “us” fighting terror,

just as the vast majority of honest citizens work together in fighting

crime, is a security benefit.

Like many of the other things we’ve discussed here, we can debate how

big the costs and benefits I just described are, or we can simplify our

system and stop worrying about it.

One final cost. Security isn’t the only thing we’re trying to optimize;

there are other values at stake here. There’s a reason profiling is

often against the law, and that’s because it is contrary to our

country’s values. Sometimes we might have to set aside those values,

but not for this.”

(Sam Harris)

R.I.P. Doc Watson

Doc Watson
Doc Watson

Country Guitar Wizard Dies at 89: “Doc Watson, the guitarist and folk singer whose flat-picking style elevated the acoustic guitar to solo status in bluegrass and country music, and whose interpretations of traditional American music profoundly influenced generations of folk and rock guitarists, died on Tuesday in Winston-Salem, N.C. He was 89. Mr. Watson, who had been blind since he was a year old, died in a hospital after recently undergoing abdominal surgery, The Associated Press quoted a hospital spokesman as saying.” (NYTimes)

The Most Comma Mistakes

I think I’m good with my commas. It just seems intuitive to me. Punctuation errors have a close relationship to imprecision of thought, but people are not given permission to use their common sense when they are taught grammar and punctuation. There is also, as the article points out, a relationship with voicing a sentence internally while you are writing it. Notice your pauses. Here’s a rundown of how to think about some comma decisions. (Ben Yagoda, NYTimes)

Words to Avoid Online If You Don’t Want to Join the Government’s Watch List

English: Seal of the United States Department ...

“The US Department of Homeland Security has released a list of the keywords and phrases the agency monitors online to find potential threats. Obviously posting “Al Queda” and “dirty bomb” online will get the government to start looking at you real closely, but “pork” and other oddly normal words are also on the list.

In response to a freedom of information request, the department posted its Analyst’s Desktop Binder (a manual for the agency’s security analysts) containing this hotlist. The keywords cover domestic security, HAZMAT and nuclear, health concern, infrastructure security and other threats.

According to the Daily Mail, the Department of Homeland Security says it only uses this keyword list to look for genuine security threats, not signs of general dissent. Nobody wants Big Brother looking over her shoulder—and you shouldn’t have to feel like you need to censor yourself in this way—but if you’re particularly paranoid about the government spying on you, you might reconsider using too many of these keywords together when you post something online. Here’s the full list.” (Lifehacker).

Why Is That Undulating Blob Of Flesh Inspecting My Oil Rig?

‘On April 25, somewhere in the ocean off Great Britain, a remotely operated video camera near a deep sea oil rig caught a glimpse — at first it was just a glimpse — of an astonishing looking sea creature. It was a green-gray blob of gelatinous muscle, covered with a finely mesh-like textured skin, no eyes, no tentacles, no front, no back. It moved constantly, floating up to the camera, then it backed off and disappeared. The camera operator tried to find it, and then, suddenly, out of the darkness, back it came.’ (Krulwich Wonders… )

Do Plants Smell Other Plants? This One Does, Then Strangles What It Smells

‘”Plants smell,” says botanist Daniel Chamovitz. Yes, they give off odors, but that’s not what Chamovitz means. He means plants can smell other plants. “Plants know when their fruit is ripe, when their [plant] neighbor has been cut by a gardener’s shears, or when their neighbor is being eaten by a ravenous bug; they smell it,” he writes in his new book, What a Plant Knows. They don’t have noses or a nervous system, but they still have an olfactory sense, and they can differentiate. He says there’s a vine that can smell the difference between a tomato and a stalk of wheat. It will choose one over the other, based on…smell!’  (Krulwich Wonders… )

The myth of English as a global language

“English spelling is notoriously inconsistent, and some have gone further, calling it “the world’s most awesome mess” or “an insult to human intelligence” (both these from linguists, one American, one Austrian). Maybe this is just because our alphabet only has twenty-six letters to represent more than forty phonemes, or distinctive speech-sounds, and some of those – notably q and x – are not pulling their weight, while j is not allowed to (see “John” but also “George”). If we gave s and z a consistent value (“seazon”) and extended this to k and c (“klok” and “sertain”), we could free c up for other duties, such as maybe representing ch, as once it did. But then there are all the vowels . . . .

How did this unsystematic system come about? And is it really that bad? Some say that there are only a few hundred deeply irregular words, but the trouble is that most of them are common…” (TLS).

Should Hate Speech Be Outlawed?

Supreme Court Justice Stevens reviews legal scholar Jeremy Waldron‘s The Harm in Hate Speech:

“We should all do our best to preserve President Ford’s conception of America as a place where we can disagree without being disagreeable. An understanding of the arguments in Waldron’s book may help us to do so.” (The New York Review of Books).

Measuring Attention in Kardashians

Kim Kardashian

“The Kardashian is a unit I proposed a few classes back as a measure of attention. Conceptually, the Kardashian is the amount of global attention Kim Kardashian commands across all media over the space of a day. In an ideal, frictionless universe, we’d determine a Kardashian by measuring the percentage of all broadcast media, conversations and thoughts dedicated to Kim Kardashian. In practical terms, we can approximate a Kardashian by using a tool like Google Insights for Search – compare a given search term to Kim Kardashian and you can discover how small a fraction of a Kardashian any given issue or cause merits.

(I choose the Kardashian as a unit both because I like the mitteleuropean feel of the term – like the Ohm or the Roentgen – and because Kardashian is an exemplar of attention disconnected from merit, talent or reason. The Kardashian mentions how much attention is paid, not how much attention is deserved, so naming the unit after someone who is famous for being famous seems appropriate. Should the unit be adopted, I would hope that future scholars will calculate Kardashians using whatever public figure is appropriate at the time for being inappropriately famous.)” ( …My heart’s in Accra via kottke)

Support a constitutional amendment to reverse ‘Citizens United’

Public views of the Citizens United v. Federal...
Public views of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision

“2012 is the first presidential election year since Citizens United. And that means ExxonMobil, the Koch brothers, and all of Wall Street can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our democracy. Because the limitless spending has been protected by Supreme Court, the only way we can stop it is by amending the Constitution to reverse Citizens United and get big money out of politics for good.

That means we need to build overwhelming support from lawmakers at both the state and federal level. Right now we have an opportunity to convince politicians to get on board if they want to earn our votes before the election.

Sign the petition to your state legislators, governor, and members of congress asking them to declare their support for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics permanently.” (via MoveOn)

Fatal Hypernatraemia from Excessive Salt Ingestion During Exorcism

Morton Salt Girl

“Although the patient received a prescription for Prozac to treat her postpartum depression, her family also advised her to undergo an exorcism. She reportedly drank six glasses of a mixture of 1 kg table salt in a liter of water! That’s more than what’s in your average container of Morton salt.” (via The Neurocritic). Before she died, the patient’s serum sodium was 255, the highest ever reported. (Normal is below 140 or so.)

Legal highs making the drug war obsolete

The so called "incense blend" spice ...

“If you want any evidence that drugs have won the drug war, you just need to read the scientific studies on legal highs.

If you’re not keeping track of the ‘legal high’ scene it’s important to remember that the first examples, synthetic cannabinoids sold as ‘Spice’ and ‘K2′ incense, were only detected in 2009.

Shortly after amphetamine-a-like stimulant drugs, largely based on variations on pipradrol and the cathinones appeared, and now ketamine-like drugs such as methoxetamine have become widespread.

Since 1997, 150 new psychoactive substances were reported. Almost a third of those appeared in 2010.

Last year, the US government banned several of these drugs although the effect has been minimal as the legal high laboratories have over-run the trenches of the drug warriors.” (via Mind Hacks).

Stop the Tarbosaurus Auction!

“Tomorrow, a tyrannosaur will go up for auction in New York City. It shouldn’t. The Tarbosaurus – lot 49315 – was illegally collected and smuggled out of Mongolia.” (via Wired, with thanks to hal)

Miles Davis turned to Nancy Reagan and said…

Deutsch: Miles Davis 1984 in Bad Segeberg

‘In 1987, he was invited to a White House dinner by Ronald Reagan. Few of the guests appeared to know who he was. During dinner, Nancy Reagan turned to him and asked what he’d done with his life to merit an invitation. Straight-faced, Davis replied: “Well, I’ve changed the course of music five or six times. What have you done except fuck the president?” ‘ (via Boing Boing)

How to Write About Wittgenstein


Carl Elliott: “Wittgenstein is a notoriously difficult philosopher, and anyone approaching his work will inevitably ask themselves the question: Is it going to be worthwhile? It’s a common problem, of course. Do I really want to set aside the enormous amount of time and effort that it will take to understand Heidegger, or Derrida, or Deleuze? Often the answer is no (and for good reason). Part of what convinced me early on that Wittgenstein would be worth the effort was the portrait of Wittgenstein that emerges in Malcolm’s memoir: a man of fierce, extraordinary intelligence who was driven by the very deepest questions of human life.

And, of course, who despised being a philosophy professor.” (via The Chronicle of Higher Education).

Todd Gitlin on the “NATO Three’

Todd Gitlin by David Shankbone cropped by Ed F...
Todd Gitlin

“I have no idea whether the three young men in Chicago charged with terrorism-related felonies are guilty as charged. Prosecutors say they are “members” of “the ‘Black Bloc’ group,” which is not so much a group that has members as a shifting population of enragés who take advantage of large demonstrations which they haven’t organized to break things. …

God knows, I was warning against violence on the fringe of peaceable assemblies in Chicago in 1968, and against violent agents provocateurs, who produce the same results. (They did.) I was recently worrying aloud that this week’s Chicago protests would be sabotaged by incendiaries, literal ones or not.

In the fullness of time, we’ll know more about what “22-year-old Brian Church, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; 27-year-old Jared Chase, of Keene, N.H.; and 24-year-old Brent Betterly, who told police he resides in Massachusetts” were up to. In the meantime, Chicago’s police are trampling liberties and this is an unwarranted outrage.” (via The Chronicle of Higher Education).

The Unabomber’s Pen Pal

Theodore Kaczynski at Unabomber trial
Theodore Kaczynski

‘The paper “Industrial Society and Its Future” makes the case that modern technology has restricted freedom, ruined the environment, and caused untold human suffering. People have become overstressed and oversocialized. Humanity, the author writes, is at a crossroads, and we can either turn the clock back to a happier, more primitive time or face destruction.

The author has occasionally been praised for understanding the unforeseen consequences of technology in modern life. Kevin Kelly, a co-founder of Wired magazine who, even though he disagrees with the author’s conclusion, devotes a section of his latest book to these ideas, calling the paper “one of the most astute analyses” of technological systems he has ever read.

But for the most part the 35,000-word manifesto, first published in September 1995, has been dismissed as a rant.

That’s because the author is Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, who terrorized academics for nearly 20 years by sending a series of mail bombs that killed three people and injured 23. His demand, accepted by authorities in the hope that granting it would unearth clues to his whereabouts, was for a major newspaper to publish that manifesto.

Media profiles from the time of his capture, several months after the manifesto’s publication, paint Kaczynski as a kind of comic-book villain, a scruffy loner in a hooded sweatshirt whose failure in relationships drove him to insane acts of violence.

But when David F. Skrbina, a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Michigan here, read the manifesto in The Washington Post on the day it was published, he saw value in the message. He was particularly impressed by its clarity of argument and its references to major scholars on the philosophy of technology. He saw a thinker who wrongly turned to violence but had an argument worthy of further consideration. That argument certainly wasn’t perfect in Skrbina’s view, and he had some questions.’ (via The Chronicle of Higher Education).

The Anatomy of Harpo Marx, by Wayne Koestenbaum


Harpo Marx and three of his children wearing H...

Reviewed by Joe Queenan: “In 299 sometimes illuminating, sometimes screwy, but always self-referential pages, Koestenbaum the Deconstructor attempts to link Harpo’s work with Adolf Hitler, Charles Dickens, Marcel Duchamp, John Milton, Richard Strauss, Gilbert and Sullivan, André Breton, Frederic Chopin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Frank O’Hara, Henri Bergson, Gérard de Nerval, Richard Wagner, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire, Arnold Schoenberg and John Kennedy Jr.” (via The Globe and Mail).

Texas executed an innocent man

‘Antonin Scalia once said that no one had ever been executed in the US for a crime they didn’t commit. Well, the Columbia Human Rights Law Review is devoting its entire spring issue to the case of Carlos DeLuna, who was executed by the state of Texas in 1989 for the murder of Wanda Lopez. Their investigation reveals that another Carlos, Carlos Hernandez, actually committed the murder.’  (via kottke).

Is Death Bad for You?


“We all believe that death is bad. But why is death bad? In thinking about this question, I am simply going to assume that the death of my body is the end of my existence as a person. But if death is my end, how can it be bad for me to die? After all, once I’m dead, I don’t exist. If I don’t exist, how can being dead be bad for me?” — Shelly Kagan, professor of philosophy at Yale University and author of Death, published last month by Yale University Press (via The Chronicle of Higher Education).

America’s Indian Ocean Shadow War

“An innocuous-seeming U.S. Air Force press release. A serendipitous satellite image in Google Earth. Snapshots from a photographer on assignment at a Spanish air base. The crash of an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle fighter-bomber in the United Arab Emirates. These are some of the fragments of information that Italian aviation blogger David Cenciotti has assembled to reveal the best picture yet of the Pentagon’s secretive war in the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa.

In a series of blog posts over the past two weeks, Cenciotti has described in unprecedented detail the powerful aerial force helping wage Washington’s hush-hush campaign of air strikes, naval bombardments and commando raids along the western edge of the Indian Ocean, including terror hot spots Yemen and Somalia. Cenciotti outlined the deployment of eight F-15Es from their home base in Idaho to the international air and naval outpost at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, north of Somalia.

Over the years there have been hints of the F-15s’ presence in East Africa, but “their actual mission remains a (sort-of) mystery,” Cenciotti writes. Based on the evidence, he proposes that the twin-seat fighter-bombers — one of the Air Force’s mainstay weapon systems in Afghanistan — are dropping bombs on al-Qaida-affiliated militants in Yemen. If true, that means the U.S. intervention in the western Indian Ocean is far more forceful, and risky, than previously suggested.” (via Wired).

Undecided Now

It’s Winter in New York

and I’m flyin’ the friendly sky

and I can’t seem to make up my mind

O my melancholy baby

I’m undecided now

for you took away my heart

and left me with the hesitation blues

Can’t seem to make up my mind

you know you know

you could be my jazz baby

beyond the blue horizon

you could even be my satin doll

until I wouldn’t even know what time it is

O baby you stir my fire

I’m just sayin’ gimme time gimme time baby-face

’cause I’ve got the hesitation blues

and this poem is for you

You could be my Tokyo

even by my Janis my Billie

and bayybee I could be your Bobby McGee

but I’m still tryin’ to tame the lion for real

doin’ the money-musk farewell to whiskey

and stompin’ at the Pink Pony

so even tho the heat is on

and I’m moanin’ buried alive in the blues

afraid but thinkin’

of a second time around

I just can’t make up my mind

knowin’ there’ll never be another you

it’s as simple as that

just one of those things

like blues in the nite

I think I’ll have to get outta town

go about 500 miles away

all boogied out and bewildered

so for now I’m just sayin’

I’m undecided now

but remember

love can move mountains

and this poem is for you

Herschel Silverman

Herschel Silverman, a Beat Poet Immortalized by Allen Ginsberg, at 85


“One of the universe’s greatest injustices is that poets, whose minds dwell far beyond the middling realities of the mundane world, have to worry about making a living. Poetry—even more than other arts—is a notoriously unprofitable endeavor, and in recent history great poets have spent their weekdays working as dreamy doctors, unlikely insurance salesmen, disaffected journalists—the list goes on. It’s probably safe to assume, however, that among them there was only one candy store owner, and that’s Herschel “Hersch” Silverman, who is turning 86 this year.” (via Tablet Magazine).

Van Gogh’s Madness Reconsidered

''Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1st version)'' 1890 ...
”Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1st version)” 1890

‘It is hard to pinpoint when exactly Vincent van Gogh crossed over from being a mere titan of modern art to a general symptom of our culture—a painter whose name adorns bottles of vodka and whose supposedly liberating madness is regarded with worshipful reverence. Twenty-five years ago, his paintings ushered in the era of stratospheric prices for leading Modernists, with the sale of “Sunflowers” for $39.7 million and “Irises” for $52.9 million—at the time, three- and fourfold increases over the previous world record for any work of art. Not long after that, Japanese industrialist Ryoei Saito set a new mark again by paying $82.5 million for “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” and then suggested that he might have it cremated and buried with him.

But despite continual invocation in exhibitions, movies and books, little of the legend of mad Vincent withstands serious scrutiny. If anything characterizes Van Gogh’s intensely felt landscapes and portraits, the critic Robert Hughes long ago observed, it is lucidity, not lunacy. And the scrupulous recent biography by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, while continuing the tradition of viewing the artist’s work as an expression of his “fanatic” personality, nevertheless concludes that his untimely death by a gunshot wound was more likely an accident than a raving suicide. What is perhaps more surprising is that almost as many questions surround the art as the life. In the past two decades, museums around the world have quietly downgraded some 40 works formerly attributed to the artist, and doubts have been raised about even highly sought-after paintings like the record-breaking “Sunflowers.” ‘ (via

What Money Can’t Buy


Leslie Banks as "Count Zaroff" in Th...
Leslie Banks in The Most Dangerous Game

The Moral Limits of Markets: “…[H]ow long will it be before a severely cash-strapped government will be tempted to sell people-killing licenses? There are sure to be people out there who would pay to shoot, say, a condemned murderer. One could add to the fun by setting the the murderer free in the fields, and the shooters could go after him in helicopters — an updated version of the Roman circus where gladiators dispose of those already given the thumbs-down. Come to think of it: what about creating a market in killing Taliban, allowing people to buy an opportunity to do so from a drone-control center in the safety of Texas? The variations and possibilities are legion. But if (as I hope we do) we think these are horrible suggestions, then we think that there are moral limits to markets…” (via The Barnes & Noble Review).

When Same-Sex Marriage Was a Christian Rite

Saints Sergius and Bacchus. 7th Century icon. ...

‘Contrary to myth, Christianity’s concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has constantly evolved as a concept and ritual. Prof. John Boswell, the late Chairman of Yale University’s history department, discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient Christian church liturgical documents, there were also ceremonies called the “Office of Same-Sex Union” (10th and 11th century), and the “Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th and 12th century).’ (via anthropologist)

“A Most Peculiar Sunset”

“You wouldn’t know it, not right away, but there is something strange about this picture. It’s a sunset, yes, but notice the blush of color right above the sun. It’s blue. And as you look up, the blue fades into a faint rose or pink.

Now think about the sunsets you’ve seen, how often the sky can turn golden, or orange, sometimes pink, red, but when you look up, away from the setting sun, those colors fade back to a pale, twilight blue? It’s rare to see a sunset dipped in blue.

So this photo is a puzzle: it’s blue where the red should be and red where the blue should be. Why?” (via Krulwich Wonders… : NPR).

Mayan prophecy: The world won’t end, as a newfound calendar goes on and on and on

North Acropolis, Tikal, Guatemala.

“In a striking find, archaeologists in Guatemala report the discovery of a small building whose walls display not only a stunningly preserved mural of a brightly adorned Mayan king, but also calendars that destroy any notion that the Mayans predicted the end of the world in 2012… The mural is the first Mayan painting found in a small building instead of a large public space. And it’s also the oldest known preserved Mayan painting. ” (via Washington Post).

So if you were planning to rack up massive amounts of credit card debt in the waning part of the year, think again.

Petition: Move the National Convention Out of North Carolina

“On May 8th, the people of North Carolina voted in support of Amendment One, a constitutional amendment that discriminates against LGBT people, couples & their families. In protest, the Democratic National Convention Committee should MOVE its convention (September 2012) to a state that upholds values of equality & liberty, and which treats ALL citizens equally.” (via

Romania: False-Prophecy Penalty

Hans Baldung Grien, Witches, woodcut, 1508. Mu...
Hans Baldung Grien, Witches, woodcut, 1508.

“A month after the authorities began taxing Romania’s witches and fortunetellers on their trade, Parliament is considering a new bill that would subject them to fines or even prison if their predictions do not come true. Superstition is taken seriously in Romania, and officials passed the tax bill in an effort to increase revenues. The new bill would also require witches to have permits and provide their customers with receipts, and it would bar them from practicing near schools and churches. Witches argue they should not be blamed for the failure of their tools.” (via NYTimes with thanks to rich)

Orangutans at Miami Zoo Use iPads to Communicate


“…[M]embers of the animal kingdom dig the 9.7-inch tablet too — particularly a clan of six orangutans at the Miami Zoo.

At the Miami Zoo’s Jungle Island, handlers are interacting with orangutans using the iPad. The apes use the tablet to identify items they’re familiar with, and express their wants and needs. This is done primarily through an app designed for autistic children that displays an array of object images onscreen.

“We’ll ask them to identify ‘Where’s the coconut?’, and they’ll point it out,” Linda Jacobs, who oversees the Jungle Island program, told Wired. “We want to build from that and give them a choice in what they have for dinner — show them pictures of every vegetable we have available that day, and let them pick, giving them the opportunity to have choices.”

Orangutans are very intelligent, but lack voice boxes and vocal cords, which can make communication difficult. Up until now, zoo keepers have been using sign language to communicate with them. Using the iPad gives the orangutans another form of communication with humans, provides them with mental stimulation, and also gives those who don’t know sign language a chance to interact with humans.” (via

What Would the End of Football Look Like?

NFL conferences
NFL conferences

“The NFL is done for the year, but it is not pure fantasy to suggest that it may be done for good in the not-too-distant future. How might such a doomsday scenario play out and what would be the economic and social consequences?

By now we’re all familiar with the growing phenomenon of head injuries and cognitive problems among football players, even at the high school level. In 2009, Malcolm Gladwell asked whether football might someday come to an end, a concern seconded recently by Jonah Lehrer.

Before you say that football is far too big to ever disappear, consider the history: If you look at the stocks in the Fortune 500 from 1983, for example, 40 percent of those companies no longer exist. The original version of Napster no longer exists, largely because of lawsuits. No matter how well a business matches economic conditions at one point in time, it’s not a lock to be a leader in the future, and that is true for the NFL too. Sports are not immune to these pressures. In the first half of the 20th century, the three big sports were baseball, boxing, and horse racing, and today only one of those is still a marquee attraction.

The most plausible route to the death of football starts with liability suits….” (via Grantland).

To Predict Dating Success, The Secret’s In The Pronouns

Subterranean Fifth Grade Blues

‘…[W]hen the language style of two people matched, when they used pronouns, prepositions, articles and so forth in similar ways at similar rates, they were much more likely to end up on a date… This is not because similar people are attracted to each other, Pennebaker says; people can be very different. It’s that when we are around people that we have a genuine interest in, our language subtly shifts.

But some of his most interesting work has to do with power dynamics. He says that by analyzing language you can easily tell who among two people has power in a relationship, and their relative social status. “It’s amazingly simple,” Pennebaker says, “Listen to the relative use of the word “I.” What you find is completely different from what most people would think. The person with the higher status uses the word “I” less….. We use “I” more when we talk to someone with power because we’re more self-conscious. We are focused on ourselves – how we’re coming across – and our language reflects that….’ (via NPR).


Every day

I see or hear


that more or less

kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle

in the haystack

of light.

It was what I was born for –

to look, to listen,

to lose myself

inside this soft world –

to instruct myself

over and over

in joy,

and acclamation.

Nor am I talking

about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,

the very extravagant –

but of the ordinary,

the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.

Oh, good scholar,

I say to myself,

how can you help

but grow wise

with such teachings

as these –

the untrimmable light

of the world,

the ocean’s shine,

the prayers that are made

out of grass?

Mary Oliver

Black Hole Caught Red-handed in a Stellar Homicide

“Astronomers have gathered the most direct evidence yet of a supermassive black hole shredding a star that wandered too close.

Supermassive black holes, weighing millions to billions times more than the Sun, lurk in the centers of most galaxies. These hefty monsters lay quietly until an unsuspecting victim, such as a star, wanders close enough to get ripped apart by their powerful gravitational clutches.

Astronomers have spotted these stellar homicides before, but this is the first time they can identify the victim. Using a slew of ground- and space-based telescopes, a team of astronomers led by Suvi Gezari of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., has identified the victim as a star rich in helium gas. The star resides in a galaxy 2.7 billion light-years away.” (via HubbleSite)

Perigee “Super Moon” On May 5-6

Lunar perigee and apogee apparent size compari...
Lunar perigee and apogee apparent size comparison

“The full Moon has a reputation for trouble. It raises high tides, it makes dogs howl, it wakes you up in the middle of the night with beams of moonlight stealing through drapes. If a moonbeam wakes you up on the night of May 5th, 2012, you might want to get out of bed and take a look. This May’s full Moon is a “super Moon,” as much as 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full Moons of 2012.

The scientific term for the phenomenon is “perigee moon.” Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon’s orbit. The Moon follows an elliptical path around Earth with one side (“perigee”) about 50,000 km closer than the other (“apogee”). Full Moons that occur on the perigee side of the Moon’s orbit seem extra big and bright.” (via NASA Science).

The Psychopath Dilemma

photograph of the justices, cropped to show Ju...
Antonin Scalia
Anders Breivik

David Barash, University of Washington psychologist: “What to do with psychopaths? They’re the Anders Breivik’s, the Ted Bundy’s, the people who kill without remorse, sometimes for sport, profit, out of boredom, or for no particular reason at all, their despicable actions lubricated by a literally inhuman lack of empathy. And, as I noted earlier, there is no known treatment for psychopathy.

For all of my oft-expressed lefty political positions (on war – especially nuclear weapons – social justice, environmental protection, health care, etc.) the more I know about psychopathy the more readily my opinion on one issue at least converges with such hanging judges as the right-wing lunatic Antonin Scalia. Thus, even though I am against the death penalty generally, believing that the state shouldn’t kill people in an effort to demonstrate that people shouldn’t kill people, I’m not so sure I feel that way when it comes to clearly diagnosed, murderous psychopaths.

Given that psychopaths appear to derive their behavior from nervous systems that function differently than the rest of us, they raise an interesting question: Can such people be held legally responsible for their actions? To tell the truth, I don’t really care. To my mind, psychopaths are so dangerous (and intractable) that I’m much less concerned about their rights than about our rights to be protected from their depredations.” (via The Chronicle of Higher Education).