E.J. Dionne Jr.: Justice Scalia should resign

photograph of the justices, cropped to show Ju...

“So often, Scalia has chosen to ignore the obligation of a Supreme Court justice to be, and appear to be, impartial. He’s turned “judicial restraint” into an oxymoronic phrase. But what he did this week, when the court announced its decision on the Arizona immigration law, should be the end of the line. ” (Washington Post).

Black bear spotted in Brookline

I don’t know if this was nationwide news but it was quite the sensation in Massachusetts last month when this bear was popping in and out of hiding on Cape Cod. But this is even more amazing, and it is my town adjacent to Boston!

“The bear found in a towering pine tree in the yard of a multimillion-dollar home here today is the same male bear who rambled across Cape Cod before being captured two weeks ago and then exiled to Central Massachusetts, state officials said.

After being captured and relocated on June 11, the stubborn bear trekked 100 miles eastward before ending up at around 7:30 a.m. in the backyard of a $4.9 million home on Pine Road, officials said.

Officials said the bear, one of an estimated 4,000 in the state, embarked on his odyssey in an effort to establish his own territory. The bear weighs about 180 pounds and is about 2½ years old. He is being taken back to the countryside today — this time he’ll be released farther from Boston than before.” (Boston Globe).

Michael Tomasky: Democrats Should Come Out Swinging Against the Court

Michael Tomasky
Michael Tomasky

“If the Supreme Court overturns the health-care law, Democrats will be tempted to sulk and feel sorry for themselves. But that’s the last thing they should do….

I’ll be watching for rhetoric, tone, even body language. And on those counts, they had damn well better dispense with the usual liberal woe-is-me hand-wringing and shoulder slumping and come out swinging. They had better communicate to their base that they stand for something, that it’s important to them, and they’re pissed. And if they do it the right way, they can make the Supreme Court an issue this fall in a way that might even persuade some swing voters that the Court overstepped its bounds. I’d go so far as to say that an aggressive response can reset and reframe the whole health-care debate, once Americans have had their minds focused on this by a blatantly partisan Court…” (The Daily Beast)

Ever Heard of ASMR?

picture of an ear

“Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a physical sensation characterized by a pleasurable tingling that typically begins in the head and scalp, and often moves down the spine and through the limbs.

Most ASMR episodes begin by an external or internal trigger, and are so divided for classification. Type A episodes are elicited by the experiencer using no external stimuli, and are typically achieved by specific thought patterns unique to the individual. Type B episodes are triggered involuntarily by an external trigger, via one or more senses, and may also involve specific thought patterns associated with the triggering event. Both types of triggers vary between individuals, but many are common to a large portion of ASMR enjoyers.

Common external triggers:

  • Exposure to slow, accented, or unique speech patterns
  • Viewing educational or instructive videos or lectures
  • Experiencing a high empathetic or sympathetic reaction to an event
  • Enjoying a piece of art or music
  • Watching another person complete a task, often in a diligent, attentive manner – examples would be filling out a form, writing a check, going through a purse or bag, inspecting an item closely, etc.
  • Close, personal attention from another person
  • Haircuts, or other touch from another on head or back”

(ASMR Research & Support).

Injection wells: The poison beneath us

“Over the past several decades, U.S. industries have injected more than 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid deep into the earth, using broad expanses of the nation’s geology as an invisible dumping ground.

No company would be allowed to pour such dangerous chemicals into the rivers or onto the soil. But until recently, scientists and environmental officials have assumed that deep layers of rock beneath the earth would safely entomb the waste for millennia.

There are growing signs they were mistaken.” (Salon)

The cult of TED

“Falling animals, misbehaving toddlers and footage of Justin Bieber may populate the bulk of any YouTube most-viewed list. But amid the viral clips and pop music promos is a series of videos that seems to go against all received wisdom about what online audiences like to consume.Their tone is sunnily optimistic, go-getting, Californian, with titles like Information Is Food, Crowdsource Your Health and Inventing Is the Easy Part. They feature luminaries such as Stephen Hawking, JK Rowling and Bono delivering 18-minute lectures about big ideas – technology, culture, the environment, science, social trends. Yet although there is nary a Lolcat in sight, the YouTube channel of the Technology Entertainment and Design (TED) conference has attracted nearly 112 million views.” (BBC News)

Ring of Fire – Horseshoe Bend


“05-20-2012 I wanted to capture this remarkable experience of the Annular Solar Eclipse at Horseshoe Bend in Northern Arizona. This large panoramic composite image measuring 14531×9211 and is made from about 48 images, 30 frames were shot with a Canon 5dmk3 with a 24mm lens with a 3 frame per shot in-camera HDR that make up the body of the image and 18 frames shot with a Canon 5dmk2 with a 400mm for the composited eclipse of the sun in place over the canyon. What make this a fun image is the hundreds of photographers all capturing this extraordinary event lining the canyon rim with a thousand foot drop to the Colorado River below.” (Milky Way Scientist).

Jonah Lehrer’s tight spot

Jonah Lehrer - Pop!Tech 2009 - Camden, ME

‘This week, …Jonah Lehrer of the New Yorker …has found himself in a tight spot. On Tuesday morning, the media reporter Jim Romenesko pointed out that the opening paragraphs of Lehrer’s mid-June post to his New Yorker blog, Frontal Cortex, had previously made an appearance in an October Op-Ed Lehrer wrote for the Wall Street Journal. By midday, a reporter at New York magazine’s Daily Intel blog spotted a few more double-dips — anecdotes and examples reused in different stories — and everyone was off to the races. The New Yorker added unhappy-sounding caveats to most of Lehrer’s posts (“We regret the duplication of material”). A freelancer began cataloging, on his Tumblr, passages from Lehrer’s old New York Times Magazine pieces that later resurfaced in Lehrer’s posts at Wired. By Wednesday morning, the literary blogger Ed Champion had compiled an incredibly long list of repurposed material in Lehrer’s books and articles, and he was only a couple hundred pages into the book. Late yesterday, Lehrer finally commented, to the New York Times, that “It was a stupid thing to do and incredibly lazy and absolutely wrong.” But so far, he still has a job at the New Yorker.’ ( Salon).

Why the Dalai Lama is Hopeful

Jonathan Mirsky: ‘ “I told President Obama the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are missing a part of the brain, the part that contains common sense,” the Dalai Lama said to me during our conversation in London Wednesday.

“But it can be put back in. I am hopeful about the new Chinese leadership beginning late this year. The Communist leaders now lack self-confidence, but I have heard from my Chinese friends that after a year or two the new ones will take some initiatives, so more freedom, more democracy.”

The Dalai Lama, with whom I have been talking periodically since 1981, was in an ebullient mood even for him. He was here referring to his meeting with Obama in 2011. I had asked the Dalai Lama about those national leaders throughout the world, from South Africa to Britain, who refuse to hold formal meetings with him because they fear Beijing’s anger. President Obama declined to meet him in 2009, the first rebuff from an American president since the Tibetan leader began visiting Washington in 1991.’ ( The New York Review of Books).

The crayola-fication of the world

“In Japan, people often refer to traffic lights as being blue in color. And this is a bit odd, because the traffic signal indicating ‘go’ in Japan is just as green as it is anywhere else in the world. So why is the color getting lost in translation? This visual conundrum has its roots in the history of language.

Blue and green are similar in hue. They sit next to each other in a rainbow, which means that, to our eyes, light can blend smoothly from blue to green or vice-versa, without going past any other color in between. Before the modern period, Japanese had just one word, Ao, for both blue and green. The wall that divides these colors hadn’t been erected as yet. As the language evolved, in the Heian period around the year 1000, something interesting happened. A new word popped into being – midori – and it described a sort of greenish end of blue. Midori was a shade of ao, it wasn’t really a new color in its own right.

One of the first fences in this color continuum came from an unlikely place – crayons. In 1917, the first crayons were imported into Japan, and they brought with them a way of dividing a seamless visual spread into neat, discrete chunks. There were different crayons for green (midori) and blue (ao), and children started to adopt these names. But the real change came during the Allied occupation of Japan after World War II, when new educational material started to circulate. In 1951, teaching guidelines for first grade teachers distinguished blue from green, and the word midori was shoehorned to fit this new purpose.

Reconstructing the rainbow. Stephanie, who blogs at 52 Kitchen Adventures, took a heat gun to a crayola set.

In modern Japanese, midori is the word for green, as distinct from blue. This divorce of blue and green was not without its scars. There are clues that remain in the language, that bear witness to this awkward separation. For example, in many languages the word for vegetable is synonymous with green (sabzi in Urdu literally means green-ness, and in English we say ‘eat your greens’). But in Japanese, vegetables are ao-mono, literally blue things. Green apples? They’re blue too. As are the first leaves of spring, if you go by their Japanese name. In English, the term green is sometimes used to describe a novice, someone inexperienced. In Japanese, they’re ao-kusai, literally they ‘smell of blue’. It’s as if the borders that separate colors follow a slightly different route in Japan.

And it’s not just Japanese. There are plenty of other languages that blur the lines between what we call blue and green. Many languages don’t distinguish between the two colors at all.” (Empirical Zeal).

Why Republicans Oppose the Individual Health-Care Mandate

“The Republicans have made the individual mandate the element most likely to undo the President’s health-care law. The irony is that the Democrats adopted it in the first place because they thought that it would help them secure conservative support. It had, after all, been at the heart of Republican health-care reforms for two decades.”

In 2010, no serious constitutional scholar dreamed that the individual mandate could be overturned on constitutional grounds. Now, most says its chances are around fifty-fifty. ( The New Yorker).

Physics Community Afire With Rumors of Higgs Boson Discovery

Daniel Higgs
Daniel Higgs

“The Higgs boson may finally, really have been discovered.

Ever since tantalizing hints of the Higgs turned up in December at the Large Hadron Collider, scientists there have been busily analyzing the results of their energetic particle collisions to further refine their search.

“The bottom line though is now clear: There’s something there which looks like a Higgs is supposed to look,” wrote mathematician Peter Woit on his blog, Not Even Wrong. According to Woit, there are rumors of new data that would be the most compelling evidence yet for the long-sought Higgs.

The possible news has a number of physics bloggers speculating that LHC scientists will announce the discovery of the Higgs during the International Conference on High Energy Physics, which takes place in Melbourne, Australia, July 4 to 11.” (Wired Science).

40 years after Watergate: “Nixon was far worse than we thought”

Richard Nixon, Time cover January 3, 1972, &qu...

Woodward and Bernstein: Often characterized as a “third-rate burglary,” history proved that [Watergate] was anything but.

“Two years later, Richard Nixon would become the first and only U.S. president to resign, his role in the criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice — the Watergate coverup — definitively established. Another answer has since persisted, often unchallenged: the notion that the coverup was worse than the crime. This idea minimizes the scale and reach of Nixon’s criminal actions.” (The Washington Post).

San Andreas Fault may be more hazardous than thought

USGS diagram of San Andreas Fault
USGS diagram

“Geologists Thomas Fumal and Timothy Dawson dug trenches across the San Andreas Fault in the Santa Cruz Mountains, about 5 miles (8 km) northwest of Watsonville and discovered traces of four large past earthquakes. Broken sediment revealed quakes occur more often than earlier estimated, and two historic earthquakes reached further south than found before. In the trenches, Dawson and Fumal found a clear record of the great San Francisco quake of 1906. The three additional earthquakes hit in 1522, 1686 and either 1748 or 1838, give or take a few decades, which means this segment of the San Andreas Fault averages a big shaker every 125 years. That’s twice as often as estimates calculated by the Working Group On California Earthquake Probabilities, the group responsible for official earthquake forecasts.”


“Why I Hate Dreams”

Michael Chabon: “I hate dreams. Dreams are the Sea Monkeys of consciousness: in the back pages of sleep they promise us teeming submarine palaces but leave us, on waking, with a hermetic residue of freeze-dried dust. The wisdom of dreams is a fortune on paper that you can’t cash out, an oasis of shimmering water that turns, when you wake up, to a mouthful of sand. I hate them for their absurdities and deferrals, their endlessly broken promise to amount to something, by and by. I hate them for the way they ransack memory, jumbling treasure and trash. I hate them for their tedium, how they drag on, peter out, wander off.” (The New York Review of Books).

The illustration is from Winsor McKay’s “Little Nemo” comic strip from the early 1900’s. If you are not familiar with it, you owe it to yourself.

Happy Bloomsday!


James Joyce

The World Celebrates James Joyce: ‘There is additional cause for celebration on this year’s Bloomsday. Seventy years after the author’s death, the copyright on his works has expired and they have entered the public domain. As PBS noted: “Many events in Dublin and elsewhere can finally put on performances and readings of entire sections of the novel without fear of legal recourse by the Joyce estate.”

It marked “a new era for biographers and scholars who are now free to publish him or parts of his work without the permission of the fiercely protective, and often litigious, Joyce estate,” the Irish broadcaster RTE commented.’ (NYTimes)

‘Sticker Lady’ Sets a Dare for Singapore

“‘Singapore) A street artist known as “Sticker Lady” has mounted a challenge to this city-state’s obsession with order. In her portfolio: stickers pasted onto traffic-signal buttons with messages such as “Press to Time Travel” or “Press to Stop Time.” ‘ (WSJ.com).

Who is Ray, the boy with the ‘adventurous story’?

‘Berlin police have released a photograph of the mysterious “forest boy” who turned to authorities nine months ago saying he lived in a wood for five years and did not know who he was. Police in the German capital sent a picture of the smiling blond boy wearing a T-shirt and a gold necklace to news outlets asking for help in getting to the bottom of a story that captured the world’s imagination last year.

“Despite the extensive studies and investigations, the youth office and the Berlin police were still not successful in identifying the boy who calls himself Ray,” the police statement, which was published in German and English, said. “Who knows the person shown in this picture? Who can give any information about his identity? Who can give any information about the person’s possible relatives?”

Giving his name only as Ray and his date of birth as June 20, 1994, the teenager sought help on September 5 at Berlin’s City Hall speaking English and just a few words of German. “He claimed he only knew his date of birth and his first name. He was sent to youth emergency services,” police said. “There he told an adventurous story.” The boy was unable, or refused, to give his family name, birthplace or any other biographical information but said he had spent the last five years living in a forest with his father until he died suddenly in August.

Ray told police he had buried his father “in a hole in the forest underneath some stones” but, after “walking north for five days” to Berlin, could not explain how he had died or where authorities could find his body. “A corresponding dead body has still not been found,” police said. Ray said his mother Doreen had died in a car accident, which he also did not remember, when he was 12 and that he assumed scars on his face were incurred in the crash.’ (Sydney Morning Herald).

Obama Adds a Fresh Metaphor to a Familiar Campaign Message

Had just been getting impatient with the President rolling over on Republican lies about the budget deficit when he finally decided to go on the offensive about the issue, with an apt comparison:

When Mitt Romney and other Republicans carp about the dismal economy without mentioning that Mr. Obama inherited a $1 trillion deficit from his Republican predecessor, “it’s like somebody goes to a restaurant, orders a big steak dinner, martini, all that stuff,” Mr. Obama said, winding up to his punch line as his audience tittered. “And then, just as you’re sitting down, they leave, and accuse you of running up the tab!” (NYTimes)

How’s this for a non sequitur? It reminds me of this classic Abbott and Costello routine my friend Bob had just forwarded to me (what, you don’t know Abbott and Costello??!!), from The Noose Hangs High (1948):

Bring me the head of George W Bush

‘Game of Thrones’ puts former POTUS on a spike: ‘In the commentary track on the tenth episode of the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones DVD, David Benioff, co-creator of the show reveals an amusing secret about one of the severed heads seen on spikes: “The last head on the left is George Bush” and then his partner chimes in “George Bush’s head appears in a couple beheading scenes.”“It’s not a choice, it’s not a political statement,” explained Benioff. “It’s just, we had to use what heads we had around.”A likely story…They’ve got the video at io9.’ (Dangerous Minds).

What does it mean to be cool?

Get Up with It

It may not be what you think. “Do rebelliousness, emotional control, toughness and thrill-seeking still make up the essence of coolness? Can performers James Dean and Miles Davis still be considered the models of cool?

Research led by a University of Rochester Medical Center psychologist and published by the Journal of Individual Differences has found the characteristics associated with coolness today are markedly different than those that generated the concept of cool…

In the journal article, the research is described as the first systematic, quantitative examination of what characteristics recur in popular understandings of the cool personality…

At some levels, participants in the study still appreciated the traditional elements of cool, such as rebelliousness and detachment, but not as strongly as friendliness and warmth.” (medicalxpress.com). 

Science: You Can Judge People By Their Shoes


“Researchers at the University of Kansas say that people can accurately judge 90 percent of a stranger’s personality simply by looking at the person’s shoes. “Shoes convey a thin but useful slice of information about their wearers,” the authors wrote in the new study published in the Journal of Research in Personality. “Shoes serve a practical purpose, and also serve as nonverbal cues with symbolic messages.” (National Review Online).

10 biggest puzzles of human evolution

‘We are the ape that stood on two feet, lost its fur and crossed the globe – but why? New Scientist explores these and other enduring riddles of our past…’ (New Scientist).

A Random Walk with Pi

“…[A] team of researchers from Australia, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Simon Fraser University [did] some elegant visualizations of π. In a recent paper, they used a classic method of visualizing large strings of numbers: the random walk. (Wired)

The European Atrocity You Never Heard About

‘Between 1945 and 1950, Europe witnessed the largest episode of forced migration, and perhaps the single greatest movement of population, in human history. Between 12 million and 14 million German-speaking civilians—the overwhelming majority of whom were women, old people, and children under 16—were forcibly ejected from their places of birth in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and what are today the western districts of Poland. As The New York Times noted in December 1945, the number of people the Allies proposed to transfer in just a few months was about the same as the total number of all the immigrants admitted to the United States since the beginning of the 20th century. They were deposited among the ruins of Allied-occupied Germany to fend for themselves as best they could. The number who died as a result of starvation, disease, beatings, or outright execution is unknown, but conservative estimates suggest that at least 500,000 people lost their lives in the course of the operation.

Most disturbingly of all, tens of thousands perished as a result of ill treatment while being used as slave labor (or, in the Allies’ cynical formulation, “reparations in kind”) in a vast network of camps extending across central and southeastern Europe—many of which, like Auschwitz I and Theresienstadt, were former German concentration camps kept in operation for years after the war. As Sir John Colville, formerly Winston Churchill’s private secretary, told his colleagues in the British Foreign Office in 1946, it was clear that “concentration camps and all they stand for did not come to an end with the defeat of Germany.” Ironically, no more than 100 or so miles away from the camps being put to this new use, the surviving Nazi leaders were being tried by the Allies in the courtroom at Nuremberg on a bill of indictment that listed “deportation and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population” under the heading of “crimes against humanity.” ‘ (The Chronicle of Higher Education).

Giant Tortoises End Marriage After 115 Years

‘They’ve been together since … well, since before any of us are alive, actually – but 115 years apparently is long enough. The century-old marriage between giant tortoises Bibi and Poldi in the Happ Reptile Zoo in Klagenfurt, Austria, is on the rocks. The world’s oldest animal marriage looks set to have turtley ended after an incredible 115 years when the two Giant Turtles at an Austrian zoo refused to share their cage anymore. Zoo boss Helga Happ said: “We get the feeling they can’t stand the sight of each other anymore.” ‘ (Neatorama).

Lose Yourself – Becoming the Characters You Read

English: The East Atrium at the William Oxley ...

Is this any surprise to you?

“New research now shows that, in addition to just learning about other people, places, and things, readers actually take on the experiences and beliefs of the characters in books.

In a study published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers at Ohio State University report the results of six experiments that tested the degree to which people found themselves feeling the emotions, thoughts, behaviors, goals, and traits of the characters in fictional stories. Overall, the authors report that this phenomenon, called “experience-taking,” can lead to real changes in the lives of the readers, albeit temporary.” (Brain Blogger).

The Amygdala Made Me Do It

Think Tank
Think Tank

“Why are we thinking so much about thinking these days? Near the top of best-seller lists around the country, you’ll find Jonah Lehrer’s “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” followed by Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” and somewhere in the middle, where it’s held its ground for several months, Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” Recently arrived is “Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior,” by Leonard Mlodinow.

It’s the invasion of the Can’t-Help-Yourself books. …These books possess a unifying theme: The choices we make in day-to-day life are prompted by impulses lodged deep within the nervous system. Not only are we not masters of our fate; we are captives of biological determinism. Once we enter the portals of the strange neuronal world known as the brain, we discover that — to put the matter plainly — we have no idea what we’re doing.”  (NYTimes)

Toilet psychology

A toilet with the potentially dangerous arrang...

Nick Haslam: “In 30 years of studying the field I rarely came across any recognition that human beings are creatures who excrete. Much of what we psychologists care about is on the mental side of the mind/body divide, but even when we go corporeal we eliminate elimination. Psychologists have examined the psychobiology of eating, sleeping and sex at great length, and devoted numerous journals and professional associations to them. We have investigated how substances cross from outer to inner but largely ignored traffic in the other direction.” (The Psychologist).

The history of the paper clip:

It was invented in 1899. It hasn’t been improved upon since. – “…if the paper clip can be a symbol for endless drudgery, it can also be twisted, pulled apart, and used as a tool. And in this capacity, many of the practices to which it is best suited are the opposite of the commercially productive, sanitary, and morally meaningless act of clipping together papers. Paper clips can be used to pick locks, clean under fingernails, and hack into phones. Straightened out, they are used by office workers to distract themselves from the monotony of their intended use. Nearly every reader of Joshua Ferris’ novel of office life, Then We Came to the End, becomes part of his collective narrator as they read the sentence, “If a stray paper clip happened to be lying around we were likely to bend it out of shape,” and every white-collar underling must find familiar David Foster Wallace’s description of office life in The Pale King: “The way hard deskwork really goes is in jagged little fits and starts, brief intervals of concentration alternated with frequent trips to the men’s room, the drinking fountain, the vending machine, constant visits to the pencil sharpener, phone calls you suddenly feel are imperative to make, rapt intervals of seeing what kinds of shapes you can bend a paperclip into, &c.” The paper clip, which possesses inexpensiveness, interchangeability and consistency, has also been used as a symbol for the numerous: a Tennessee school collected 6 million paper clips to symbolize the Jews killed during the Holocaust, a project documented in a 2004 Miramax film. And its affordability can be a symbol of humble beginnings: In 2005, a Canadian named Kyle McDonald took a red paper clip and began a series of online trades that eventually netted him a house (not to mention a blog, a book, and a lot of public speaking gigs). A philosophical conceit called the “paperclip maximizer” is an artificial intelligence that, programmed by humans solely to manufacture as many paper clips as possible, eventually takes over the Earth and increasing portions of space in its quest for material, leaving trillions of paper clips with no one to use them.


Finally, the simplicity of the paper clip has allowed it to become a graphic symbol on the digital desktop. For many a 21st-century office worker, it is more often encountered as the “attachment” icon in an email program than in the physical form of a bent steel wire. As we move further and further toward a paperless society, that loop-the-loop form might become more familiar in two dimensions than in three….” (Slate )

The secret lives of citrus fruit

Wedges of pink grapefruit, lime, and lemon, an...

‘Okay, I had no idea that lemons and grapefruit are actually hybrid mixes of other fruits. How did I get to age 31 and miss this? Better yet, both citruses were born accidentally, of illicit love affairs not arranged by human hands. Lemons are the love child of citron and orange. Grapefruit the natural daughter of Asian pomelo and Barbados sweet orange.’ (Boing Boing).

I only recently learned this myself after starting to eat pomelos and wanting to research what relationship they have to grapefruit.

‘Physicists, Stop the Churlishness’, Cautions New York Times

English: , and at the 2001 Strings Conference, ,

‘A kerfuffle has broken out between philosophy and physics. It began earlier this spring when a philosopher (David Albert) gave a sharply negative review in this paper to a book by a physicist (Lawrence Krauss) that purported to solve, by purely scientific means, the mystery of the universe’s existence. The physicist responded to the review by calling the philosopher who wrote it “moronic” and arguing that philosophy, unlike physics, makes no progress and is rather boring, if not totally useless. And then the kerfuffle was joined on both sides.

This is hardly the first occasion on which physicists have made disobliging comments about philosophy. Last year at a Google “Zeitgeist conference” in England, Stephen Hawking declared that philosophy was “dead.” Another great physicist, the Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, has written that he finds philosophy “murky and inconsequential” and of no value to him as a working scientist. And Richard Feynman, in his famous lectures on physics, complained that “philosophers are always with us, struggling in the periphery to try to tell us something, but they never really understand the subtleties and depths of the problem.”

Why do physicists have to be so churlish t’ward philosophy? Philosophers, on the whole, have been much nicer about science….’  — Jim Holt, author of the forthcoming book Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story (NYTimes).

For extra credit: who’s with Hawking in the photo?

‘End of an Era’ Dept: ‘Car Talk’ Ending

‘The comic mechanics on NPR’s “Car Talk” are pulling in to the garage.Brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi said Friday they will stop making new episodes of their joke-filled auto advice show at the end of September, 25 years after “Car Talk” began in Boston. Repurposed versions of old shows will stay on National Public Radio indefinitely, however.The show airs every Saturday morning and is NPR’s most popular program.”We’ve managed to avoid getting thrown off NPR for 25 years, giving tens of thousands of wrong answers and had a hell of a time every week talking to callers,” Ray Magliozzi said. “The stuff in our archives still makes us laugh. So we figured, why keep slaving over a hot microphone?” ‘ (Huffington Post with thanks to Kathleen).

R.I.P. Bob Welch

Bob Welch
Bob Welch

Ex-Fleetwood Mac member Bob Welch dead: ‘Bob Welch, an early member of rock band Fleetwood Mac who enjoyed a successful solo career with hits such as “Ebony Eyes,” died on Thursday of an apparent suicide at home in Nashville. He was 66.

Police said Welch’s body was found by his wife Wendy with a single gunshot wound to the chest, and he had left a suicide note. Welch suffered from health problems, but police did not disclose what those issues were.

Mick Fleetwood, one of the founding members of Fleetwood Mac and Welch’s manager during his solo career, had remained in close contact with his former band mate over the years and told Reuters that Welch’s suicide was “incredibly out of character.” ‘ (Reuters)

Symbols of Power: Adinkras and the Nature of Reality

Theoretical Physicist S. James Gates: “For the past five years, I and a group of my colleagues (including Charles Doran, Michael Faux, Tristan Hubsch, Kevin Iga, Greg Landweber and others) have been following the geometric-physics path pioneered by Kepler and Gell-Mann. The geometric objects that interest us are not triangles or octagons, but more complicated figures known as “adinkras“, a name Faux suggested. The word “adinkra” is of West African etymology, and it originally referred to visual symbols created by the Akan people of Ghana and the Gyamen of Côte d’Ivoire to represent concepts or aphorisms. However, the mathematical adinkras we study are really only linked to those African symbols by name. Even so, it must be acknowledged that, like their forebears, mathematical adinkras also represent concepts that are difficult to express in words. Most intriguingly, they may even contain hints of something more profound — including the idea that our universe could be a computer simulation, as in the Matrix films.” (On Being).

Learning from Science-Fiction B-movies

Cover of "Creature From the Black Lagoon ...

Colson Whitehead: “Growing up on the Upper East Side in the nineteen-seventies, I was a bit of a shut-in. I would prefer to have been a sickly child. I always love it when I read a biography of some key Modernist or neurasthenic Victorian and it says, “So-and-so was a sickly child, forced to retreat into a world of his imagination.” But the truth is that I just didn’t like leaving the house. Other kids played in Central Park, participated in athletics, basked and what have you in the great outdoors. I preferred to lie on the living-room carpet, watching horror movies.” (The New Yorker).

The Miseducation of Mitt Romney


“If you liked the George W. Bush administration’s education reforms, you will love the Romney plan. If you think that turning the schools over to the private sector will solve their problems, then his plan will thrill you.

The central themes of the Romney plan are a rehash of Republican education ideas from the past thirty years, namely, subsidizing parents who want to send their child to a private or religious school, encouraging the private sector to operate schools, putting commercial banks in charge of the federal student loan program, holding teachers and schools accountable for students’ test scores, and lowering entrance requirements for new teachers. These policies reflect the experience of his advisers, who include half a dozen senior officials from the Bush administration and several prominent conservative academics, among them former Secretary of Education Rod Paige and former Deputy Secretary of Education Bill Hansen, and school choice advocates John Chubb and Paul Peterson.”  (Diane Ravitch,  The New York Review of Books).

A Portrait of ‘the Minister of Fear’, Film Director Michael Haneke

English: Michael Haneke Français : Michael Han...

“Making waves… is what Haneke has become famous for. Over the last two decades, the director has developed a reputation for stark, often brutal films that place the viewer — sometimes subtly, sometimes explicitly — in the uncomfortable role of accomplice to the crimes playing out on-screen. This approach has made Haneke one of contemporary cinema’s most reviled and revered figures, earning him everything from accusations of obscenity to a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art next month. “Funny Games,” the movie Haneke was shooting in New York and Long Island, is the American remake of a highly controversial film by the same name that he directed in 1997. It was from its beginnings targeted at the American moviegoing public — and no other word but “targeted” will do. “Funny Games” is a direct assault on the conventions of cinematic violence in the United States, and the new version of the film, with its English-speaking cast and unmistakably American production design, makes this excruciatingly clear. More surprising still, Haneke remade this attack on the Hollywood thriller for a major Hollywood studio, Warner Independent Pictures, and refused to alter the original film’s story in the slightest.” (New York Times).

The “Truman Show” delusion

English: Maybe visual delusions exist to remin...

This is the abstract of a recent journal article by psychiatrist brothers Joel Gold (NYU) and Ian Gold (McGill).

Introduction. We report a novel delusion, primarily persecutory in form, in which the patient believes that he is being filmed, and that the films are being broadcast for the entertainment of others.

Methods. We describe a series of patients who presented with a delusional system according to which they were the subjects of something akin to a reality television show that was broadcasting their daily life for the entertainment of others. We then address three questions, the first concerning how to characterise the delusion, the second concerning the role of culture in delusion, and the third concerning the implications of cultural studies of delusion for the cognitive theory of delusion.

Results. Delusions are both variable and stable: Particular delusional ideas are sensitive to culture, but the broad categories of delusion are stable both across time and culture. This stability has implications for the form a cognitive theory of delusion can take.

Conclusions. Cultural studies of delusion have important contributions to make to the cognitive theory of delusion.” (Cognitive Neuropsychiatry).

However, as a psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of delusional conditions, I just don’t buy it. There is nothing so unique or novel about this delusion. I wrote about it here three years ago. As a matter of fact, there was an episode of the television show The Twilight Zone, oh probably in the ’50’s, depicting similar themes. Then there’s the related trope of The Adjustment Bureau, in which life is orchestrated behind the scenes for obscure purposes. Being controlled or manipulated, being observed or monitored — these have always been the essence of paranoid delusions. All that changes is the technology the affected individual fears, according to what they know: the written or printed word, radio surveillance, implanted bugs, computer chips, television cameras, spy satellites. As sophisticated as one is about technology, that is how sophisticated and modern one’s delusions will be.

It is also worth noting that, to a careful and discerning clinician, some patients’ presentations of the ‘Truman Show’ sensation about reality may not really represent a delusion, in other words the patient may not warrant a psychotic diagnosis. It may arise from the terribly disquieting and often unrecognized, thus underdiagnosed, condition called derealization, in which a person feels distanced from their experience, as if they are watching a movie or a cartoon of the world instead of being engaged in life. This is a dissociative, rather than a psychotic, condition. For those who are interested in learning more, here is a Wikipedia article on the phenomenon, and another one on the related condition of depersonalization, which may be the flip side of the same coin phenomenologically.

New ‘Digital Divide’ Seen in Wasting Time Online

Digital Divide

“As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show.

This growing time-wasting gap, policy makers and researchers say, is more a reflection of the ability of parents to monitor and limit how children use technology than of access to it.” (NYTimes).

So wasting time online is restricted to the underprivileged?

Poverty, Immigration, and the ‘New HIV/AIDS’

“What if a deadly epidemic was burgeoning and almost nobody noticed? In the latest issue of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, a distinguished group of virologists, epidemiologists and infectious-disease specialists say that’s not a hypothetical question. They argue that Chagas disease, a parasitic infection transmitted by blood-sucking insects, has become so widespread and serious — while remaining largely unrecognized — that it deserves to be considered a public health emergency. Extending the metaphor, they liken Chagas’ stealth spread to the early days of AIDS…” (Wired Science ).

2 New Elements Named on Periodic Table

“You can now greet by name two new residents of the period table of elements: Flerovium and Livermorium.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry officially approved names for the elements – which sit at slot 114 and 116, respectively — on May 31. They have until now gone by the temporary monikers ununquadium and ununhexium.

Both elements are man-made, having first been synthesized at the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, in 1998 and 2000. The discoveries were confirmed with further work at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Suggested names for the two elements have been pending since they were submitted to the IUPAC last year.” (Wired Science).

Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

‘ “Arsenic is the number one environmental chemical for human health,” Joshua Hamilton tells me during a recent phone call. We’re talking about his latest research, a just-published study in PLoS ONE which found that this naturally occuring poison causes harm in an astonishingly small dose — 10 parts per billion.Hamilton’s study looked at arsenic’s effect on mother mice and their offspring. But he chose the 10 ppb dose for a very human reason. It’s the safety standard the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets for arsenic in drinking water. Why does EPA need such a standard? Because an estimated 25 million Americans mostly on private well systems drink water contaminated by arsenic-rich bedrock. I’ve put an arsenic map of the United States at the top of the post. Note that micrograms per liter is the same thing as parts per billion. This tells you that a lot of private wells — which are not held to public water supply regulations — run above the EPA standard.’ (Wired Science)

Boing Boing covers ‘cannibal fever’




Responding to “cannibal fever,” CDC denies existence of zombies


‘CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms),” wrote the US government agency spokesman David Daigle in an email to The Huffington Post.’


Cannibal news: MMA fighter, high on ’shrooms, ate friend’s still-beating heart


California judge has determined that a 27-year-old mixed martial arts
fighter accused of killing his friend and sparring partner “by ripping
his still-beating heart from his chest after gruesomely beating and
torturing” him is mentally fit to stand trial. Prior to the attack, the
two had consumed mushroom tea. There have been an awful lot of news
stories like this one, this week.


Another cannibal in the news


‘A professor at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute is being held for
reportedly cutting off his wife’s lips and eating them, according to the
Sydney Morning Herald. She was allegedly having an affair. From the Baltimore college student who allegedly ate his housemate’s brain and heart to Miami’s nude face-eater to Montreal’s animal-torturing, human dismembering porn star, it’s quite a week for grotesque murders and crazed cannibalism.’




The Perfected Self

Teaching machine, designed by B. F. Skinner
Teaching machine, designed by B. F. Skinner

“B. F. Skinner’s notorious theory of behavior modification was denounced by critics 50 years ago as a fascist, manipulative vehicle for government control. But Skinner’s ideas are making an unlikely comeback today, powered by smartphone apps that are transforming us into thinner, richer, all-around-better versions of ourselves. The only thing we have to give up? Free will.”  (The Atlantic).

Why New Yorker writers and others keep pushing bogus controversies


English: Steven Pinker at the Göttinger Litera...

Steven Pinker on the false fronts in the language wars: ‘Nature or nurture. Love it or leave it. If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.If you didn’t already know that euphonious dichotomies are usually phony dichotomies, you need only check out the latest round in the supposed clash between “prescriptivist” and “descriptivist” theories of language. This pseudo-controversy, a staple of literary magazines for decades, was ginned up again this month by The New Yorker, which has something of a history with the bogus battle. Fifty years ago, the literary critic Dwight Macdonald lambasted the Third Edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary for aiming to be “a recording instrument rather than … an authority” and insufficiently censuring such usages as “deprecate” for depreciate, “bored” for disinterested, and “imply” for infer. And in a recent issue, Joan Acocella, the magazine’s dance critic, fired a volley of grapeshot at the Fifth Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary and at a new history of the controversy by the journalist Henry Hitchings, The Language Wars. Acocella’s points were then reiterated this week in a post by Ryan Bloom on the magazine’s Page-Turner blog. The linguistic blogosphere, for its part, has been incredulous that The New Yorker published these “deeply confused” pieces. As Language Log put it, “Either the topic was not felt to be important enough to merit elementary editorial supervision, or there is no one at the magazine with any competence in the area involved.” ‘ (Slate Magazine).

Dog domestication may have helped humans thrive while Neandertals declined

English: comparison of Neanderthal and Modern ...

“We all know the adage that dogs are man’s best friend. And we’ve all heard heartwarming stories about dogs who save their owners—waking them during a fire or summoning help after an accident. Anyone who has ever loved a dog knows the amazing, almost inexpressible warmth of a dog’s companionship and devotion. But it just might be that dogs have done much, much more than that for humankind. They may have saved not only individuals but also our whole species, by “domesticating” us while we domesticated them.

One of the classic conundrums in paleoanthropology is why Neandertals went extinct while modern humans survived in the same habitat at the same time. (The phrase “modern humans,” in this context, refers to humans who were anatomically—if not behaviorally—indistinguishable from ourselves.) The two species overlapped in Europe and the Middle East between 45,000 and 35,000 years ago; at the end of that period, Neandertals were in steep decline and modern humans were thriving. What happened?

…In every respect, modern humans surpassed Neandertals. In fact, the
greater success of modern humans was so clear that… the human population increased tenfold over
the 10,000-year overlap period. Modern humans thrived and Neandertals
did not—even though Neandertals had lived in the European habitat for
about 250,000 years before modern humans “invaded.” Why weren’t
Neandertals better adapted to their environment than the newcomers?

There is no shortage of hypotheses. Some favor climate change, others
a modern-human advantage derived from the use of more advanced hunting
weapons or greater social cohesion. Now, several important and disparate
studies are coming together to suggest another answer, or at least
another good hypothesis: The dominance of modern humans could have been
in part a consequence of domesticating dogs—possibly combined with a
small, but key, change in human anatomy that made people better able to
communicate with dogs.” (American Scientist).