Worst Art Restoration Attempt Ever?

Botched Restoration of Ecce Homo Fresco Shocks Spain - NYTimes.com

“An elderly woman stepped forward this week to claim responsibility for disfiguring a century-old “ecce homo” fresco of Jesus crowned with thorns, in Santuario de la Misericordia, a Roman Catholic church in Borja, near the city of Zaragoza.

Ecce homo, or behold the man, refers to an artistic motif that depicts Jesus, usually bound and with a crown of thorns, right before his crucifixion.

The woman, Cecilia Giménez, who is in her 80s, said on Spanish national television that she had tried to restore the fresco, which she called her favorite local representation of Jesus, because she was upset that parts of it had flaked off due to moisture on the church’s walls.

The authorities in Borja said they had suspected vandalism at first, but then determined that the shocking alterations had been made by an elderly parishioner. The authorities said she had acted on her own.

But Ms. Giménez later defended herself, saying she could not understand the uproar because she had worked in broad daylight and had tried to salvage the fresco with the approval of the local clergy. “The priest knew it,” she told Spanish television. “I’ve never tried to do anything hidden.”

Ms. Giménez said she had worked on the fresco using a 10-year-old picture of it, but she eventually left Jesus with a half-beard and, some say, a monkeylike appearance. The fresco’s botched restoration came to light this month when descendants of the 19th-century artist, Elías García Martínez, proposed making a donation toward its upkeep.

News of the disfiguring prompted Twitter users and bloggers to post parodies online inserting Ms. Giménez’s version of the fresco into other artworks. Some played on the simian appearance of the portrait.” (NYTimes)

An unreal Mars skyline

Pretty, isn’t it? You can find endless copies of it online; just search on the term “mars skyline”. It’s been picked up on tons of Tumblrs and other social media.But yeah, there’s just one problem: it’s not real.” (Bad Astronomy via abby)

Paul Ryan vs. the Catholic Activists

“It’s officially official now, what with the Paul Ryan Veep nod: the Republican Party is in the grips of a long-dead, fanatically anti-Christian cult leader. At a certain point, you realize, of course, that the far-right religious cultural warriors are going to be obliged to turn on the libertarian-types. Their common ground ain’t as common as it used to be! And it’s going to be really fun to watch.” (Dangerous Minds)

ASHLAND, VA - AUGUST 11:  Republican president...

For Instance:

“GOP leaders and conservative pundits have brought upon themselves a crisis of values. Many who for years have been the loudest voices invoking the language of faith and moral values are now praising the atheist philosopher Ayn Rand whose teachings stand in direct contradiction to the Bible. Rand advocates a law of selfishness over love and commands her followers to think only of themselves, not others. She said her followers had to choose between Jesus and her teachings.

GOP leaders want to argue that they are defending Christian principles. But, at the same time, Rep. Paul Ryan (author of the GOP budget) is posting facebook videos praising Rand’s morality and saying hers is the “kind of thinking that is sorely needed right now.” Simply put, Paul Ryan can’t have it both ways, and neither can Christians. As conservative evangelical icon Chuck Colson recently stated, Christians can not support Rand’s philosophy and Christ’s teachings. The choice is simple: Ayn Rand or Jesus Christ. We must choose one and forsake the other.” (American Values Network)

Eve Ensler: Dear Mr. Akin, I Want You to Imagine…

English: Eve Ensler at a Hudson Union Society ...

“…I am asking you and the GOP to get out of my body, out of my vagina, my womb, to get out of all of our bodies. These are not your decisions to make. These are not your words to define.

Why don’t you spend your time ending rape rather than redefining it? Spend your energy going after those perpetrators who so easily destroy women rather than parsing out manipulative language that minimizes their destruction.

And by the way you’ve just given millions of women a very good reason to make sure you never get elected again, and an insanely good reason to rise….” (Read the whole thing: Huffington Post)

Bonobo genius makes stone tools like early humans did

Head of a Bonobo (Pan paniscus)

“Kanzi the bonobo continues to impress. Not content with learning sign language or making up “words” for things like banana or juice, he now seems capable of making stone tools on a par with the efforts of early humans.” (New Scientist)

Hateful speech on hate groups

After an apparently politically motivated shooting at the Family Research Council, Washington Post commentator Dana Milbank says, and I agree:

“…[W]hile much of the political anger in America today lies on the right, there are unbalanced and potentially violent people of all political persuasions. The rest of us need to be careful about hurling accusations that can stir up the crazies….”

However, Millbank is dead wrong to go on to castigate the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center for labelling the FRC a “hate group”:

Southern Poverty Law Center

‘Human Rights Campaign isn’t responsible for the shooting. Neither
should the organization that deemed the FRC a “hate group,” the Southern Poverty Law Center,
be blamed for a madman’s act. But both are reckless in labeling as a
“hate group” a policy shop that advocates for a full range of
conservative Christian positions, on issues from stem cells to

I disagree with the Family Research Council’s views on
gays and lesbians. But it’s absurd to put the group, as the law center
does, in the same category as Aryan Nations, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Stormfront and the Westboro Baptist Church. The center says the FRC “often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science.” ‘

Exactly how similar to the Aryan Nation does a group have to be to have Millbank’s permission to be under scrutiny by the SPLC? And exactly what percentage of hateful principles does a full-spectrum Christian group have to support for them to have Millbank’s permission to be labelled as hateful? What, exactly, does Millbank mean by the sloppy and vague assertion that the SPLC “puts the group in the same category”?

The SPLC has done more to break the back of bigotry and hate speech than any other advocacy group. Their approach is thoughtful and evidence-based, in contrast to Millbank’s hysteria. I trust their judgment if they have concerns about the policies promulgated by a group, no matter the sheep’s clothing of mainstream respectability the organization cloaks itself with.

Willy Ronis: Le Nu Provençal

“The Telegraph says he was more artistic than Doisneau and less patrician than Cartier-Bresson; like those masters to whom he is frequently compared, Willy Ronis embodied the Golden Age of photography, where photojournalists composed lyrical odes to world-changing events and banal everyday lives alike.

Ronis was best known for a nude of his wife, Marie-Anne Lansiaux, bending over a sink in a rustic bathroom. The photo was almost like a Bonnard painting and reflected that easy rustic feel of country life…” (Iconic Photos).

Wikileaks reveals ex-CIA agents running a face-recognition profiling company that surveils NYC subways, London stock exchange, Vegas casinos and more

“Newly released WikiLeaks publications from the Stratfor leak reveal much about Trapwire, a multi-country surveillance network run by a private US company, Abraxas, led by ex-CIA operatives. The network operates in NYC subways, the London Stock Exchange, Las Vegas casinos, and more. It uses real-time video facial profiling and is linked to red-flag databases.

Here is a US GOV pdf diagramming its workings. Here is an RT article on the subject.

The WikiLeaks publications related to Trapwire are difficult to access now because WikiLeaks.org and many of its mirrors are under heavy DDOS attack. (Good time to donate!) However you can see the publications here via Tor.

Australian activist @Asher_Wolf is organizing a nonviolent campaign against Trapwire, including an effort to spam the network with creative false positives.” (Boing Boing).

Mitt Romney’s tax rate under Paul Ryan’s budget? 0.82%


Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts,...
Why is this man smiling?

(Your taxes will probably go up, though): “Paul Ryan wants to kill all tax on capital gains, interest, and dividends — income you get from owning things, rather than doing a job. Under this plan, Mitt Romney’s $21,000,000 in 2010 income would be largely tax-exempt. Only his speaking and author fees — $593,996 — would be taxed, and only at 25%, for a net tax of $177,650 on $21,661,344 — that is, 0.82%.

But don’t worry, the government won’t go broke if the super-rich are virtually tax exempt. Under Ryan’s budget, tax on the bottom 30% of earners will increase. Matthew O’Brien explains in The Atlantic:

It might seem impossible to fund the government when the super-rich pay no taxes. That is accurate. Ryan would actually raise taxes on the bottom 30 percent of earners, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, but that hardly fills the revenue hole he would create. The solution? All but eliminate all government outside of Social Security and defense…” (Boing Boing)

Speak Out to Help Thousands of Puppy Mill Dogs

English: Chihuahua puppy

“Right now, the USDA considers any commercial dog breeder who sells puppies directly to the public, including over the Internet, a “pet store” and exempts them from federal oversight—no matter how large or abusive their breeding operation is. As a result, thousands of dogs are bred and kept in filthy, inhumane conditions with no basic welfare standards. This antiquated view of what constitutes a pet store urgently needs updating!

The loophole means that any breeder who sells puppies directly to the public is not required to open his or her kennel doors to federal inspectors. Unscrupulous breeders have been exploiting this loophole for decades by meeting unsuspecting consumers in parking lots and flea markets—and more recently, by selling puppies online.

This gaping loophole in federal law is under government scrutiny, and we need your help to ensure it is closed! In mid-May, the USDA released a draft of its proposed new rule to close this massive regulatory loophole. The proposed rule represents a meaningful effort by the USDA to target problematic, large-scale breeding operations that sell puppies to the public, sight unseen, by requiring these breeders to meet the minimum care standards of the Animal Welfare Act. While the rule is not perfect, we are hopeful that with your help, USDA will make the changes necessary to fix this problem once and for all.

While we often hear about the plight of the puppies who come out of puppy mills, the mothers of those puppies also urgently need protection. Breeding female dogs in puppy mills are forced to bear litter after litter without any break for their bodies to recover. They typically suffer from lack of proper nutrition, socialization and veterinary care. Support the USDA’s efforts to require more large-scale, commercial breeders to open their kennel doors to federal inspectors.
What You Can Do

The USDA wants your comments on the rule. Join the ASPCA in urging the USDA to make sure all puppy mills are regulated, and that legitimate rescues and shelters are not inadvertently impacted. The agency needs to hear YOU speak out in about this rule! If you haven’t done so already, please use the form below to send an official comment to the USDA today in support of the proposed regulation. We encourage you to enter your own text in the box provided to let the USDA know why this issue is important to you.” (ASPCA; thanks, Lloyd).

John Unger and Schoep

‘They say dogs are man’s best friend. John Unger and Schoep are proof of that. Their friendship started when Unger adopted Schoep from a shelter as a puppy 19 years ago. It turns out Schoep wasn’t the only one who needed to be rescued.

“He’s been my guardian for a number of years,” Unger said. Time has given them memories, but it has also taken a toll on Schoep’s body. “This joint right here kind of freezes up,” Unger said pointing to Schoep’s hind leg.

Arthritis and hip dysplasia have settled into Schoep’s joints. The only comfort now is a routine that keeps Schoep off his feet. Unger takes Schoep out into Lake Superior for a dip as often as they can. Unger gently places his arm under Schoep as they float together in the water. With no pressure on his body Schoep quickly falls asleep in Unger’s arms. Schoep’s eyes close as his head rests on Unger’s chest. Sometimes they stay that way for hours.

“This is living,” Unger said as they floated in Lake Superior Thursday evening. Unger is careful with every minute. He’s not sure how much longer Schoep will be around. He wanted just one picture of them in the water to capture their friendship. He asked Hannah Stonehouse Hudson, owner of Stonehouse Photo in Bayfield, to take a few pictures. She posted one picture of Unger and Schoep on Facebook, and it went viral within a few hours. It has now been viewed more than 2 million times.’  (wusa9.com, with thanks to Noah)

Giant Crumpled Paper Drops From The Sky, Lands On Hill In New Zealand

‘You are standing in a park in New Zealand. You look up at the top of a hill, and there, balanced on the ground, looking like it might catch a breeze and blow away, is a gigantic, rumpled piece of paper.

Except … one side of it, the underside, is … not there. You can see the sky, clouds, birds where there should be paper, so what is this?

As you approach, you realize it is made of metal. It’s a sculpture, made of welded and painted steel that looks like a two dimensional cartoon drawing of a three dimensional piece of paper … that is three dimensional if you get close, but looks two dimensional if you stay at the bottom of the hill…

…as you can see from these two-dimensional photographs of the three-dimensional sculpture that looks like a two-dimensional cartoon sitting on a three-dimensional hill — STOP!!! My head hurts.

Here’s an artwork that fools with my brain and makes me think that what I see — or think I see — is a curious mix of expectation, distance, chance and brain circuitry. And, in this case, delight.

Neil Dawson, the sculptor, likes to work big. This one, called “Horizons” is 118 feet long, four stories high, and it sits in a private art park (the public is invited, but you have to make an appointment) owned by a New Zealand millionaire who commissioned this piece (and 21 others from different artists), then added sheep (we are in New Zealand, after all), plus a few giraffes, zebras, water buffalo and yaks to give the place a little biological variety.’  (Krulwich Wonders… : NPR).

When the Olympics Gave Out Medals for Art

‘From 1912 to 1952, juries awarded a total of 151 medals to original works in the fine arts inspired by athletic endeavors. Now, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the first artistic competition, even Olympics fanatics are unaware that arts, along with athletics, were a part of the modern Games nearly from the start.’ (Smithsonian Magazine).

Andrew Scull on ‘All We Have to Fear: Psychiatry’s Transformation of Natural Anxieties into Mental Disorders’


English: Emil Kraepelin
Emil Kraepelin

Psychiatry’s Legitimacy Crisis: ‘Horwitz and Wakefield want to argue for the harmful impact of what is often called the neo-Kraepelinian revolution in psychiatry. Emil Kraepelin was the fin-de-siècle German psychiatrist who launched the fashion for descriptive psychopathology and first made the distinction between dementia praecox and manic-depressive illness. Horwitz and Wakefield suggest that the efforts of Kraepelin’s late-twentieth century successors to make psychiatric diagnoses more rigorous and predictable have instead enabled psychiatric pathology to get out of hand. They identify two problems: the psychiatric profession’s obsession with simplistic, symptom-based diagnoses, and the looseness of its criteria for defining mental states as pathology. All sorts of anxieties that are in reality part of the normal range of human emotion and experience have been transformed by professional sleight of hand into diseases. The upshot, they contend, is that whereas thirty years ago less than five percent of Americans were thought to suffer from an anxiety disorder, nowadays some widely cited epidemiological studies have decreed that as many as 50 percent of us do so.” (Los Angeles Review of Books).

Book review: ‘Hello Goodbye Hello,’ by Craig Brown

Harpo Marx

‘According to the captivating new book “Hello Goodbye Hello” Alexander Woollcott, the writer and Algonquin Circle wit, loved to play a game called Strange Bedfellows. One of his biggest coups took place at a Cap d’Antibes villa in the summer of 1928 when he succeeded in bringing together Harpo Marx and George Bernard Shaw (“corned beef and roses,” as he called them) at lunch. The two hit it off, and later that week Harpo drove Shaw to Cannes, where a friend of Shaw’s cast them as extras in a movie; a scene featuring them playing billiards, alas, would be left on the cutting-room floor.

In “Hello Goodbye Hello” Craig Brown — a longtime columnist for the satirical British magazine Private Eye — weaves together dozens of such encounters into a glittering daisy chain that reads like a mathematical proof of the theory of six degrees of separation…

Though the volume is bookended by chapters involving Hitler, it zigzags furiously across the decades, connecting politics to show business, royalty to the art world. Along the way it illustrates the cosmic serendipity of life, somehow managing to connect the dots between Rudyard Kipling and Helen Keller (both knew Mark Twain), between Frank Lloyd Wright and Nikita Khrushchev (both met Marilyn Monroe), and between Diana, Princess of Wales, and Raymond Chandler. (Diana met Princess Grace of Monaco, who had worked with Alfred Hitchcock, who had worked with Chandler.)

One of the stranger conceits of “Hello Goodbye Hello” is that it describes 101 meetings and expends exactly 1,001 words on each one, resulting in a work that is 101,101 words long. This mathematical construct lends structure to the volume, though this is the one aspect of the enterprise that feels artificial and contrived — happily, something the reader barely notices so engaging is Mr. Brown’s narrative.’ (NYTimes)

PTSD: a modern cultural construction, not a universal response to trauma

eosphoro on heophon.(lucifer in heaven).james ...

“…[A] study published in Stress and Health looked at historical accounts of traumatic experiences from antiquity to the 16th century.

The researchers found that although psychological trauma has been recognised throughout history, with difficult events potentially leading to mental disorder in some, there were no consistent effects that resembled the classic PTSD syndrome.

Various symptoms would be mentioned at various times, some now associated with the modern diagnosis, some not, but it was simply not possible to find ‘historical accounts of PTSD’.

The concept of PTSD is clearly grounded in a particular time and culture, but even from a modern diagnostic perspective it is important to recognise that we tend to over-focus on PTSD as the outcome of horrendous events.

Perhaps the best scientific paper yet published on the diversity of trauma was an article authored by George Bonanno and colleagues in 2011. You can read the full-text online as a pdf.

It notes that the single most common outcome after a traumatic event is recovery without intervention, and for those who do remain affected, depression and substance abuse problems are equally, if not more likely, than a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder.” (Mind Hacks).

Perseid Meteor Shower—And Moon Flashes—Peaks Saturday

“Peaking late Saturday night and before dawn Sunday this year, the Perseids occur when Earth and the moon pass through a cloud of rocky particles shed by comet Swift-Tuttle.

Hitting the atmosphere at speeds of almost a hundred thousand miles (160,000 kilometers) an hour, the meteoroids burn up, producing streaks of light—meteors, or shooting stars—each lasting just a fraction of a second.

In dark, cloudless areas, the first meteors should become visible around 10 p.m. local time, with rates increasing through the night, eventually reaching a rate of one or two shooting stars per minute before dawn.” (National Geographic).

Wired Science Space Photo of the Day

“Flying over the unlit side of Saturn’s rings, the Cassini spacecraft captures Saturn’s glow, represented in brilliant shades of electric blue, sapphire and mint green, while the planet’s shadow casts a wide net on the rings.” (Wired)

Abstract mathematics may be next front in culture war

The intersection of A and B, denoted A ∩ B.
The intersection of A and B*, denoted A ∩ B. (*Just as long as A and B aren’t of the same sex.)

‘The next front in the culture war for America’s resurgent Christian fundamentalist movement may be set theory. That’s right; some fundies find the mathematical theory of sets right down there with critical thinking, mainstream paleontology and Ozzy Osbourne records:

“Unlike the “modern math” theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute….A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.”

Why do the fundamentalists find set theory so objectionable? It seems to be not because of what it says (unlike, say, evolutionary biology) but because of the kinds of thought it may encourage; set theory, you see, with its paradoxes and its heretical notion of there being different kinds of infinity (i.e., the set of all real numbers and the set of all integers are both infinite, but the former is greater than the latter) could subtly seduce even the most rigorously home-schooled children into modernist habits of thinking, not based in absolute truths and rigid, God-given hierarchies but in ungodly paradoxes. And if there is more than one infinity and the the set of all statements is either incomplete or inconsistent, they may start to wonder what other statements they had accepted on divinely-ordained authority are incorrect, and before you know it, you have atheism, Red Communism and buggery on the Sabbath.’ (The Null Device).

Why the NRA Won’t Take “Yes” for an Answer

Dylan Otto Krider: “President Obama is more gun friendly than the previous Democratic president by an order of magnitude. Bill Clinton, a southerner, passed the assault weapons ban; Obama has not pushed for any gun control measures as President (Congress let it expire in 2004 and though Obama says he favors reinstatement, he doesn’t expect Congress to act). “With the election of Obama, the Democrats essentially cried uncle in the hopes the NRA would stop hitting them–and who knew? Perhaps a few gun owners might even bring themselves to vote in their economic interests once their pistols were secured. The NRA had won, all that was left to do was for it to accept the surrender.

Yet if anything, the animosity from gun owners has gotten worse.

With no actual opposition to speak of, the NRA chose to fabricate one out of thin air–if gun store owners are to be believed, consistently sparking runs on gun stores before Obama’s non-existent proposals took to take weapons away took effect. With a President content to leave them be, conservative media latched onto the Fast and Furious program, begun under Bush, weaving an intricate plot that allowed them to gin up just the kind of public outcry the Democrats are now sidestepping with Aurora.

The more Obama let the NRA be, the more convince it became he was out to get them. Out to take those guns away. If not now, then with secret plans that would begin in his second term…” (The Intersection).

Michael Tomasky on Romney’s ‘Stunning, Terrible’ Choice of Ryan for VP

“…So he’ll get some good press, and he’ll generate great enthusiasm among conservative intellectuals. But the introduction of him to the American people will inevitably involve some other things, too. It will involve explanations from the media that he is the GOP’s archconservative theoretician. It will involve explaining who Ayn Rand is. It will involve going into detail on his budget, and in particular his plans for Medicare. Learn that now, folks, if you don’t know it already. It will involve endless interpretations exactly like mine, about Romney sending a signal that he is running an ultraconservative campaign. The Ryan controversy will overtake the campaign. Romney will become in some senses the running mate—the ticket’s No. 2. Think of it: The candidate will be running on his vice president’s ideas! (The Daily Beast)

Dump Rominee: Sara and David Bethel

DUMP ROMinee: Why Tampa’s Republican Delegates must Dump Romney to Defeat Obama, is based on a memo going to GOP delegates and officials of the August, 2012 Republican National Convention. Given a weak incumbent and economy, it argues that Romney ought to be ahead in the race for the White House, yet he’s losing to President Obama by a projected 332-206 votes in the Electoral College, according to RealClearPolitics.com. Meanwhile, New York Times political analyst Nate Silver rates Romney’s odds of victory at around 23%.

The book contends that no delegates are actually “bound” to vote for Romney, that all are free to “conscientiously abstain” on the all-important first ballot and that to win the White House and toss-up Senate seats, Tampa’s conventioneers must exercise their “small-r” republican rights to dump the frontrunner for a better GOP ticket leader.

“DUMP ROMinee,” also argues that conventioneers must avoid Romney because much worse is ahead: If Romney heads the GOP ticket, crucial swing state voters will almost certainly reject him as they come to learn about his Mormon dogmas and personal history – and what they mean for explosive issues of race, religion and sexuality. Citing a June Gallup poll which indicates 18% of Americans won’t vote for a Mormon, the book says, “No mere adherent, Romney presided as the LDS equivalent of Boston’s Cardinal Law. In 2008, Obama had his Jeremiah Wright problem; in 2012, Mormon Bishop Romney is Jeremiah Wright.”

More excerpts:

• “Few Tampa delegates have had any disclosure on the racially-toxic [Book of Mormon] texts to which Willard M. Romney is tied – and which he has yet to repudiate; same with the anti-Semitic writings.”

• “Can there be any real doubt that the fascinating metaphysics of Mitt’s Mormonism – which belligerently declares all other faiths to be “ABOMINATIONS” – will soon find wide distribution in Bible Belt areas of FL, VA, IA and MO?”

• “Who seriously harbors any doubt that Romney’s exotic beliefs – e.g., that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, that Jesus is Satan’s brother, that God the Father physically and sexually penetrated the Virgin Mary, that each of us can become gods – will get spun this fall as those of a religious whack-o?”

• “Who seriously imagines that Romney’s creeper roots – naked temple rites and all – won’t soon be subject to blistering heat?”

• Romney is “ ‘America’s Founding Father of Gay Marriage,’ the reason Obama could safely come out” for same-sex marriage along with, it is expected, the Democratic National Platform at the DNC convention in Raleigh, NC. The book claims that Romney – supporting gays in the military, gay adoption and gay youth pride proclamations for years – brought about the USA’s first same-sex weddings as governor of Massachusetts in 2004. That act, the book contends, was likely with an eye to a U.S. Supreme Court dissent by Justice Scalia shortly beforehand which argued that if laws impeding homosexuality should fall, so too must those against bigamy/polygamy. The book argues that “Historic Mormon doctrines and practices of systemic adultery, ‘spiritual wifery,’ polygamous ‘plural marriage,’ [and] child brides” help explain Romney’s “hostility to hetero-monogamy.” The book says “Romney has even ripped the Boy Scouts for their prudent good sense on homo/bisex Scoutmasters.”

Researched and written by a subcommittee of the group Jews and Christians Together, edied by Sara and David Bethel, the book aims “to provide thoughtful, responsible and dutiful GOP delegates with a pathway out of their and our nation’s current, fatal problem, that the Republican Party is on the brink nominating sure loser,” said Steve Baldwin, a substantial contributor to the book, a former Republican Whip of the California State Assembly and former Executive Director of the Council for National Policy (CNP), a powerhouse Washington-based conservative organization.

via Amazon.com: Dump Rominee (9780985872328): Sara and David Bethel: Books.

33-year wait to see The Who rewarded

The Who

“In 1979, 11 peopled died in a stampede before a stop on The Who’s Quadrephenia tour in Cincinnati when not enough doors were opened to let in the crowd. Providence mayor Buddy Cianci canceled a concert two weeks later at the Providence Civic Center, and The Who hasn’t ever been back to Providence. Last week, the GM of the PCC, now called the Dunkin’ Donuts Center announced he’d accept unrefunded tickets for The Who’s February, 2013 concert.

Tuesday, as the Providence Journal reports, “the patience and tenacity of 10 Who fans was rewarded … at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, where they traded in 14 tickets to the band’s canceled 1979 Providence performance in exchange for tickets to their February 2013 show at the Dunk.” The ProJo has video. Fan Ed McConnell says he knew exactly where his two ’79 tickets were: one was in a cigar box in a closet and the other one “was stuck on a cork bulletin board in my parent’s house in my brother’s old bedroom.”

About 10 fans exchanged their tickets, including one fan who had waited in line for 3 days to get tickets in 1978.” (kottke).

How the FBI sees the psychopath

06 Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R)
06 Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R)

“The latest FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin is a special issue on the criminal psychopath. Apart from the use of eye-scorching clip-art, it’s notable more what it tells us about how the FBI approaches the concept of psychopathy than necessarily being a great introduction to the topic. Some of the most revealing articles are written by agents and give advice on how to interrogate the ‘psychopath’ as if it was a single type of person and not a relatively consistent pattern of characteristics found within unique individuals…

Despite some overconfident conclusions, several of the articles do give some good accounts of actual cases and the issue remains an interesting peek into how the FBI sees the psychopath.” (Mind Hacks)


autism neuroimaging study

I’m posting a small literature review I wrote for some colleagues about a fascinating and unusual psychiatric symptom, autoscopy. FYI.

Autoscopy is a rare syndrome in which, while retaining insight into the unreality of the phenomenon, the individual while believing himself to be awake sees his or her body at another location. Autoscopy comes from the ancient Greek autos (“self”) and scopos (“watcher”). Autoscopy has intrigued humankind from time immemorial and is abundant in the folklore, mythology, and spiritual narratives of most ancient and modern societies. The related term Heautoscopy is defined as a reduplication not only of bodily appearance but also of aspects of one’s psychological self, and has been considered as one possible explanation for the doppelgänger phenomena. In an autoscopic hallucination the observer’s perspective is clearly body-centred, and the visual image of one’s own body is usually said to appear as a mirror reversal. Illness, injury, hospitalization, sleep deprivation and stress have long been associated with the disorder. Faguet, in 1979 (Gen Hospital Psychiatry 1:311-14), posited a relationship with persons with highly developed visual memories. Autoscopy is probably underreported, as Grotstein observed in 1983 (Hillside J Clin Psychiatry 5:259-304). There is limited medical literature referring to the phenomenon. It certainly seems as if much more attention has been paid to the phenomenon in European circles than in North American psychiatry.

In 1989, Devinsky et al (Arch Neurol 46: 1080-88) reported on a case series of 10 patients with seizures and autoscopic phenomena and reviewed 33 additional cases from the literature, noting that these experiences may be ictal symptoms of simple partial, complex partial or generalized seizures. They concluded that seizures may be more common in autoscopy than previously appreciated. In patients in whom a seizure focus could be identified, the temporal lobe was involved in 86%. There was no clear lateralization of lesions. Brugger et al, from University Hospital Zurich (1994, J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 57:838-9),  noted the longstanding association of autoscopic phenomena (or doppelganger experiences) with epilepsy and suicidal behavior in literary accounts. In 1994, Dening and Berrios, from Cambridge UK (Br J Psychiat 165:808-17), reviewing 53 case reports of autoscopy published since 1935, found that 59% had identified neurological illness (commonly epilepsy) and 59% had psychiatric conditions (frequently delirium, depression or psychosis). If the images spoke, the patients were more likely to be male, younger, have psychotic illnesses, longer duration of the images, and association with hypnagogic or hypnopompic experiences. Arias et al, from Santiago Chile, described in 1996 (Neurologia, 11:230-32) a case of a woman with clinically established multiple sclerosis and autoscopic experiences. EEG and EEG-Holter studies were normal. MRI revealed multiple areas of bitemporal white matter hyperintensities. Episodes remitted with carbamazepine treatment. Podoll and Robinson, from Aachen, Germany (1999, Cephalalgia 19:886-96), examined migraine art and concluded that autoscopic and related perceptual disturbances could occur as migraine aura symptoms.

In 2004, Blanke et al from Geneva (Brain, 127[2]:243-58) described the phenomenological, neuropsychological and neuroimaging correlates of autoscopic (the subject sees an image of his body in extrapersonal space) and out-of-body (the subject seems to see the world and his body from a location outside the physical body) experiences, relating them to pathological sensations of position, movement and perceived completeness of one’s own body. In five of six patients, brain damage or dysfunction was localized to the temporoparietal junction. Also in 2004, Maillard et al from Nancy, France, reported on three epilepsy patients with autoscopy who had MRI lesions of the nondominant (right) parietal region and their autoscopic experiences occurred in association with other ictal signs supporting a right parietal seizure focus. Zamboni et al, from Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy, described in 2005 a case of a patient with longstanding autoscopic experiences after post-eclamptic brain damage. The MRI showed lesions involving the occipital cortex and the basal ganglia bilaterally. A 2011 report by Anzellotti and associates, from d’Annunzio University in Italy (Behav Brain Funct 7:2) described a case in which EEG recordings during a patient’s autoscopic experiences showed a right parietal focus. In 2012, Hoepner et al, Mara Hospital, Bielefeld Germany (Epilepsy Behav, 23:360-3), reported on a series of seven patients, and reviewed another seven cases reported in the literature, with lateralizing autoscopic experiences. In 12 of the 14 cases, there was a well-defined epileptic focus contralateral to the side of the autoscopic images in space.

Brugger, from Zurich, in 2002 (Cogn Neuropsychiatry (7:179-94) placed these reduplicative phenomena on a phenomenological continuum depending on the subject’s point of view, positing a relationship between spatial perspective and psychological perspective:

In an autoscopic hallucination the observer’s perspective is clearly body-centred, and the visual image of one’s own body appears as a mirror reversal. Heautoscopy (i.e., the encounter with an alter ego or doppelgänger), is defined as a reduplication not only of bodily appearance, but also of aspects of one’s psychological self. The observer’s perspective may alternate between egocentric and ”alter-ego-centred”. As a consequence of the projection of bodily feelings into the doppelgänger (implying a mental rotation of one’s own body along the vertical axis), original and reduplicated bodies are not mirror images of one another. This also holds for OBEs, where one’s self is not reduplicated but appears to be completely dissociated from the body and observing it from a location in extracorporeal space.

Tadokoro et al, for Aichi Medical University in Japan, surveyed the literature of epilepsy-associated autoscopy and described a case of a patient with partial epilepsy who experienced postictal, rather than ictal, autoscopy for nearly 30 years. They suggested as a potential mechanism “wish-fulfilling fantasies released as a result of a shaken integrity regarding personal bodily image”. In 2010, Bolognini et al, from Bologna, Italy, reported a case of longlasting autoscopy in a patient with a right occipital lesion. Noting that, instead of the common frontal view, the patient saw her head and upper trunk laterally in profile view, suggesting a multisensory origin of the phenomenon and an important contribution from proprioceptive signals.

Morgellons: What Is it?

morgellons forest
morgellons forest

This is a repost of a 2006 piece I wrote here, well, just because I liked it.

This MetaFilter query (http://www.metafilter.com/mefi/51559) prompted a reader (thanks, Stan) to ask my opinion about the controversial medical condition referred to as Morgellons Disease, written about on only one academic paper (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=16489838&dopt=Citation) by Savely, Leitao and Stricker in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology in 2006. When I read the abstract —

“Morgellons disease is a mysterious skin disorder that was first described more than 300 years ago. The disease is characterized by fiber-like strands extruding from the skin in conjunction with various dermatologic and neuropsychiatric symptoms. In this respect, Morgellons disease resembles and may be confused with delusional parasitosis. The association with Lyme disease and the apparent response to antibacterial therapy suggest that Morgellons disease may be linked to an undefined infectious process. Further clinical and molecular research is needed to unlock the mystery of Morgellons disease.”

— I was struck by several details. ‘First described more than 300 years ago’ but obviously not developing much of a medical following; an outlandish and medically implausible lead symptom; the assertion that it is ‘confused’ with delusional parasitosis (but is not delusional parasitosis per se), an ‘association’ with Lyme Disease, which, although a real illness, attracts a large number of wannabees hoping to explain diverse symptoms, many of them in the emotional or psychiatric spheres; and the dramatic language about ‘unlocking the mystery’ — all of these combine to spell ‘histrionic’.

The ‘disease’ has its own foundation, the Morgellons Research Foundation, which keeps a tally of the number of ‘registered households’ (3492 as I write this). Its website (http://www.morgellons.org/) expands on the attributes of the condition, citing cardinal features of “disturbing crawling, stinging, and biting sensations”, non-healing skin lesions, and associated, striking fiber-like or filamentous projections as well as “seed-like granules and black speck-like material associated with their skin.” The website features a 10x magnified photo of the lip of an affected 3 year-old boy and an “object from the same lip” at 60x. The pictures make discussants of the condition on MetaFilter squirm, the only consensus emerging from the message thread there. (http://www.metafilter.com/mefi/51559)

In noting that “the most significant element of the infection appears to be the effect on the central nervous system”, the web site notes that concentration and memory problems are nearly universal, that mood disorders are very common, and that the majority of affected children have “ADHD, ODD, mood disorders or autism”. Only one direction of causality is considered — that the supposed infection has CNS effects. But it seemed more likely to me that the causal flow is in the opposite direction — from the emotional to the (imagined) physical. So many of the attributes of this condition smack of the other controversial syndromes of which I have written which patients adopt as explanations for their distress and dysfunction, with implausible and inconsistent core symptoms and definitions. Although many of these conditions have a medical reality at their core, diagnostic criteria are applied loosely and diffusely by wannabee sufferers and unrigorous clinicians swept up in the bandwagon effect. Interest in and information about them (much of it inaccurate and imprecise) is spread largely by the media and particularly the internet. An everchanging constellation of trendy syndromes or ‘diseases’ serve these roles. La plus ca change, la plus c’est la meme chose, as the saying goes…

Although searching academic resources such as Medline or Google Scholar for ‘Morgellons Disease’, (http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&newwindow=1&q=Morgellons+Disease&spell=1) as proponents dub it, yields only these few resources, a search on ‘Morgellons’ alone (http://www.google.com/search?q=Morgellons&start=0&ie=utf-8) is more revealing. Weeding out the sensationalistic and the partisan, the best overview of the status of Morgellons is the Wikipedia article here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morgellons). Lo and behold, modern interest in Morgellons is largely the product of one evangelist, the aforementioned journal article author Mary Leitao, who coined the term in 2002 while investigating her son’s unexplained rash. Not a medical professional herself, she has a degree in biology and has worked as a chemist and electron microscope operator. Far from having a 300-year history, it is merely named after a condition described 300 years ago to which it is analogous but certainly not identical. Thus, it is a bit disingenuous to aspire to legitimacy by the claim to a legacy.

Leitao is the founder of the aforementioned Morgellons Research Foundation. It would be tempting to suggest that she seems to have a sense of mission about this condition and that it is somewhat self-serving now that nonprofit dollars and the preservation of her foundation are at stake. Most of the other Morgellons boosters are not medical doctors either. And, uh-oh, the sensationalism is fueled (http://www.mysanantonio.com/global-includes/printstory.jsp?path=/news/metro/stories/MYSA051106.morgellans.KENS.32030524.html) by one nurse practioner who claims to have identified and treated ‘the majority’ of these patients. Sure, you might argue that that is because she is a pioneer who recognizes a condition to which others are blind in a geographic area which for some inexplicable reason has a cluster of cases, but more likely it is because she sees what she wants to see in a self-fulfilling prophecy sort of way.

The Wikipedia article notes the extent to which the condition embodies indicators of delusional parasitosis:

  • The presentation of physical evidence such as skin scrapings and debris
  • Obsessive cleaning and use of disinfectants and insecticides
  • Rejection of the possibility of psychological or other explanations
  • Emotional trauma, desperation, social isolation.
  • Having seen numerous physicians, to no avail

While some clinicians report response of symptoms in several weeks with antipsychotic medication, I wonder whether it is necessary to invoke delusionality per se as an explanation. A delusion is a psychotic symptom representing a fixed disorder of thought not amenable to reasoning, and it is premature, even if one is debunking the disorder, to say that Morgellons sufferers are frankly delusional, rather than just insistent seekers of somatic explanations for emotional distress. Antipsychotics work in nonpsychotic conditions as well; most of them by the way are anti-pruritics, i.e. they have anti-itch properties. Using them in this condition, however, may be akin to using a sledgehammer to drive in a thumbtack.

This June, 2005 article (http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/medicine/1662162.html?page=1&c=y) in, of all places, Popular Mechanics, takes an expanded look at the phenomenon and ultimately shares my conclusion that sufferers convinced they have something real called Morgellons are leaping to conclusions. A number of doctors have sent samples from the skin lesions of affected patients to pathology labs and state health boards, standard practice in dermatological diagnosis. Investigations of samples uniformly fail to reveal any signs of infection or infectious organisms. Nevertheless, members of the Morgellons.org online community demand that the CDC investigate the condition as an infectious disease, a plaint recently taken up by Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin. Believers can write to Congress (http://www.morgellons.org/congress.html) from the website.

Circumspect practitioners report that the nonhealing skin lesions go away if the affected area is casted for several weeks, preventing sufferers from scratching and picking at their sores, as our mothers taught us not to do when we were children. And what of the bizarre core symptom of the spinous or filamentous extrusions from the skin lesions? One Morgellons debunker (http://morgellonswatch.blogspot.com/) found the photomicrographs touted by proponents to be almost identical to pictures at the same magnification of kleenex fibers stained with blood. It seems likely to me that most people would dab a weeping or oozing lesion with kleenex at least intermittently. I am tempted to elaborate that the absorptive properties of the fibers of kleenex would draw blood or serous secretions up and, as they dried, the fibers would stiffen. Probably the strands and fibers sufferers report are heterogeneous; perhaps some are fungal hyphae too, others clothing fibers and other adherent fiber fragments. The vehemence and histrionics with which the debunker’s explanation is dismissed in the comments by Morgellons proponents, unwilling to entertain any suggestion contradicting their fervent convictions, is quite telling. [See the same in the comments to this post. -FmH]

Morgellons is fascinating, but although certainly new medical syndromes are being discovered and/or codified all the time, it almost certainly does not belong among my occasional ‘Annals of Emerging Disease’ features here in FmH. Rather, I firmly believe it is of interest as a snapshot of medical sociology, illness subculture and the spread of trendy pseudodiagnosis in the age of the internet. Just as most fibromyalgia is chronic fatigue with muscle aches, this is chronic fatigue with skin lesions. And, although there may be a germ of truth (pun intended) at the core of all of these disorders, most sufferers have nothing very different than, yes, conditions described hundreds of years ago — neurasthenia, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurasthenia) depression and hysteria (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hysteria).


“The Morgellons Research Foundation (MRF) is no longer an active organization and is not accepting registrations or donations. The MRF donated remaining funds to the Oklahoma State University Foundation to support their Morgellons disease research. Click here to learn more about this research.”

Are Butterflies Two Different Animals in One?


beautiful butterfly

The Death And Resurrection Theory :  ‘Here’s a dangerous, crazy thought from an otherwise sober (and very eminent) biologist, Bernd Heinrich. He’s thinking about moths and butterflies, and how they radically change shape as they grow, from little wormy, caterpillar critters to airborne beauties. Why, he wondered, do these flying animals begin their lives as wingless, crawling worms? Baby ducks have wings. Baby bats have wings. Why not baby butterflies?

His answer — and I’m quoting him here — knocked me silly.

“[T]he radical change that occurs,” he says, “does indeed arguably involve death followed by reincarnation.” ‘ (Krulwich Wonders… : NPR)

From Bench to Bunker


War In Iraq  .. 5 US soldiers killed in Baghda...

How a 1960s discovery in neuroscience spawned a military project: “Some critics view these projects with suspicion and raise ethical objections: They see Darpa initiating a military invasion of the mind that warps the goals of basic research to fit the battlefield. “As a scientist I dislike that someone might be hurt by my work. I want to reduce suffering, to make the world a better place, but there are people in the world with different intentions, and I don’t know how to deal with that,” Vincent P. Clark, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico whose work with brain stimulation has influenced the military, told The Guardian earlier this year.” (The Chronicle of Higher Education).

Does Quantum Physics Make it Easier to Believe in God?

English: Schrödinger equation of quantum mecha...
Schrödinger equation (1927)

“Not in any direct way. That is, it doesn’t provide an argument for the existence of God.  But it does so indirectly, by providing an argument against the philosophy called materialism (or “physicalism“), which is the main intellectual opponent of belief in God in today’s world.” (Big Questions Online)

Finally – A Higgs Boson Story Anyone Can Understand

“…[O]n July 4, the universe started to sound weird and unnecessarily complicated. Physicists worldwide were celebrating an elusive thing called the Higgs Boson, which had apparently made a brief appearance.

They kept repeating that it was important because it gives matter mass, but they didn’t say how such an important job can be done by a particle that needs an $8 billion device to coax it into existence for less than a nanosecond before it returns to oblivion.

The news sounded more like the twisted logic of credit default swaps than the rational progression of science. But now that the physicists have had time to catch up on their sleep and science reporters have recovered from their 4th of July hangovers, a coherent and even comprehensible picture is starting to emerge.

And who better to tell the story than Higgs the cat. I’ve decided to ask a few very simple questions to help Higgs spin the tale.” (Philly.com)

Dosimetric investigation of the solar erythermal UV radiation protection provided by beards and moustaches

World Beard and Moustache Championship - Rolan...

“An excess of electromagnetic radiation in the ultraviolet waveband can cause severe damage to skin cells and their DNA. Fortunately, various natural protection mechanisms exist, but until recently, one has been almost entirely overlooked in the dosimetric literature. New details are revealed in the latest (July 2012) edition of the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry, which features a paper from a cross faculty team at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia.” (Improbable Research)

[As someone who has shaved only three times in more than forty years, I knew this…]

Also see: Solar Ultraviolet Protection Provided by Human Head Hair (Photochemistry and Photobiology, Volume 85, Number 1, January/February 2009 , pp. 250-254)

BONUS (unrelated): Feline Reactions to Bearded Men

Greenland’s ‘Extreme Melt Event’

‘In a five-day period in July, Greenland experienced an “extreme melt event.” On July 8, about 40 percent of the ice cover had thawed a bit at the surface. Five days later, an estimated 97 percent of the surface area was thawing. Nearly the entire surface of the ice sheet, from the very edges to the very center, saw some thawing…

NASA says that it is normal for Greenland’s ice to melt a bit in the summer; what is abnormal is the extent. Normally, only about half of the ice sheet’s surface sees any melting. This year, that proportion just about doubled. NASA additionally said that its satellites were recording uncharacteristically high temperatures over the island. Those warmer temperatures were brought by a bubble of warm air (a “heat dome”), the latest in a series of such ridges that have moved over Greenland this year.’ (The Atlantic)

Blind Mice Temporarily Regain Vision After Chemical Injection

Blind Mice Temporarily Regain Vision After Chemical Injection | 80beats | Discover Magazine

“Our ability to see depends on two factors: light-sensitive rods and cones in the retina, and the nerves that transmit signals from these cells to the brain (along with the brain itself, of course). When the rods and cones die, which can occur as the eye ages or in the retina-damaging eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, the nerves can sometimes still function—if they have a new, working sensor for light. To replace the rods and cones, previous treatments have used electronic implants, which require surgery, or gene therapy, which relies on injections deep into the eye. But in a new technique, all it takes to restore vision—at least partially—is a much less invasive injection of the chemical AAQ.” (80beats | Discover Magazine)

“Music Was Better in the Sixties, Man”

‘Actually, popular music is arguably “better” today. But in the Sixties it was more creative — or at least more experimental. So says science. (Via Kevin Drum.)

The science under consideration was carried out by a group of Spanish scientists led by Joan Serrà, and appeared in Scientific Reports, an open-access journal published by Nature. They looked at something called the Million Song Dataset, which is pretty amazing in its own right. The MSD collects data from over a million songs recorded since 1955, including tempo and volume and some information about the pitches of the actual notes (seems unclear to me exactly how detailed this data is).

And the answer is … popular music is in many ways unchanged over the years. The basic frequencies of different notes and so forth haven’t changed that much. But in certain crucial ways they have: in particular, they’ve become more homogeneous.’ (Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine).

Eradicating Taste Buds and Poverty With Chili Peppers

Naga Jolokia

“In 2007, the bhut jolokia, 100 times hotter than the average jalapeño, made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s hottest chili…only to be dethroned in the book’s latest edition by the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T. Although the bhut jolokia has lost its world-record title, it’s recently found a more practical role: alleviating poverty in its home province of Assam.

At The Guardian, Helen Pidd describes how bhut jolokia, also known as the ghost chili, became a lucrative crop for impoverished Assamese farmers when its world-record status drove fans of spicy foods to offer enormous sums for the fiery chili.” (Discover Magazine)

Has anyone ever tried a jolokia? or a Scorpion?

R.I.P. George Miller

George Miller

George Miller, who wrote the almost-magical essay “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two”, died this past week. The essay appeared in the Psychological Review(vol. 101, no. 2, 1956, pp. 343-352). It begins:

“My problem is that I have been persecuted by an integer. For seven years this number has followed me around, has intruded in my most private data, and has assaulted me from the pages of our most public journals. This number assumes a variety of disguises, being sometimes a little larger and sometimes a little smaller than usual, but never changing so much as to be unrecognizable. The persistence with which this number plagues me is far more than a random accident. There is, to quote a famous senator, a design behind it, some pattern governing its appearances. Either there really is something unusual about the number or else I am suffering from delusions of persecution…”

(Improbable Research)