Month: November 2013

Social media is making us anxious and paranoid…

So why can’t we stop using it? ‘In my research I have found that social software may inadvertently promote inequality rather than countering it. Metrics, like follower count or number of “likes” on a photo, facilitate this process by rendering social status into something that can be quantified, qualified, and publicized.

The process of what I call “digital instantiation” works similarly toward quantification, qualification, and publicity by rendering users’ lives in piecemeal fashion, unintentionally creating a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts. Social media tools digitize formerly ephemeral pieces of information, like what one had for breakfast, making it possible to create a bigger picture of a person or community’s actions. Once “breakfast” is captured in a Foursquare check-in or Instagram photo, it can be combined, searched, or aggregated with other pieces of information to create mental models of actions, beliefs, and activities. Within this context, social surveillance, or the monitoring of friends’ and peers’ digital information, becomes normal.

While lifestreaming has plenty of social and emotional benefits, it also comes with costs. Lifestreamers must see themselves through the gaze of others, altering their behavior as needed to maintain their desired self-presentation. This constant monitoring against the backdrop of a networked audience creates anxiety and encourages jockeying for status, even as it brings forth new forms of social information.’ (Medium).

Was humanitarian intervention just a passing fad?

‘During the 1990s, a previously little-known concept rapidly became the hottest term in international relations. “Humanitarian intervention”—at its simplest, the use of military force to protect human rights—established itself in the political lexicon following a series of brutal conflicts in Africa and the Balkans.

As with most political concepts, humanitarian intervention became voguish thanks to circumstances. The Soviet Union had collapsed. We hadn’t fully grasped the threat posed by Islamist terrorism. With the expulsion of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and the relative success of the Israel-Palestinian peace process, even the Middle East seemed uncommonly stable.

Most important, there was an acute awareness in Western countries that our impressive military strength hadn’t deterred some of the worst slaughters of the 20th century. For around 14 weeks in 1994, Rwanda was the site of the most rapacious extermination since the Holocaust, with more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus murdered by machete-wielding Hutu extremists. Between 1992 and 1995, the war in Bosnia spawned countless atrocities, such as the massacre of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Serb forces in the town of Srebrenica. To many—especially American Jews—it seemed that these failures showed the hollowness of oft-repeated promises of “never again.”

Humanitarian intervention was the response to these failures. When the United States and the United Kingdom led a “coalition of the willing” to stop the Serb onslaught in Kosovo in 1999—supported by an ideologically broad coalition of liberal internationalists and neoconservatives—it wasn’t to pursue a strategic interest but to arrest yet another episode of ethnic cleansing on European soil. Similarly, when the British intervened in Sierra Leone’s civil war in 2000, the sole purpose was to prevent drug-addled paramilitaries controlled by a psychopath named Foday Sankoh from hacking off the limbs of young children.

The images of those wars—the long columns of refugees, the mass graves, the flowers and candy and cheers that greeted the liberating foreign armies—all seem very distant now. The combined experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan have persuaded many Westerners that any kind of military action, even when it’s undertaken in the defense of basic human rights, is just plain wrong—morally, politically, and strategically.

Thus do we come to the debacle in Syria. Once Syrian President Bashar al-Assad unleashed chemical weapons against his own people, Western policymakers were confronted with a textbook case for humanitarian intervention. In a different context, they might have acted. But there was little domestic backing, even from those who had spoken strongly in the 1990s of “never again.” This lack of support was one critical reason America and its allies caved under Russian pressure, calling off planned air strikes in favor of a dubious diplomatic process guided by Moscow.

Was humanitarian intervention just a passing fad, or can it be resuscitated? Can we ever reach agreement among both liberals and conservatives that military action in defense of human rights is sometimes justified, or are we fated to remain polarized, to the detriment of those under the boot of tyrannical regimes?’ (Slate)

Stop the Parade!

 

Helium is wasted in floating parade balloons: ‘Back in September, before the U.S. government shut down for a few days, Congress approved a bill that would prevent the National Helium Reserve from shutting down. This might sound minor, but as Miriam Krule and Noam Prywes explained in 2012, we’re quickly running out of helium—a valuable, and nearly impossible to recreate, natural resource. More than just funny voices and balloons, helium is necessary for MRIs, deep-sea diving, and aerospace engineering. So, before you sit down to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade, take a minute to read their piece…’ (Salon).

Are Alzheimer’s and diabetes the same disease?

‘Having type 2 diabetes may mean you are already on the path to Alzheimer’s. This startling claim comes from a study linking the two diseases more intimately than ever before.’ (New Scientist).

Inside the minds of the JFK conspiracy theorists

William Saletan: ‘…[P]eople who suspect conspiracies aren’t really sceptics. Like the rest of us, they\’re selective doubters. They favour a world view, which they uncritically defend. But their worldview isn’t about God, values, freedom, or equality. It\’s about the omnipotence of elites.

Conspiracy chatter was once dismissed as mental illness. But the prevalence of such belief, documented in surveys, has forced scholars to take it more seriously. Conspiracy theory psychology is becoming an empirical field with a broader mission: to understand why so many people embrace this way of interpreting history. As you’d expect, distrust turns out to be an important factor. But it’s not the kind of distrust that cultivates critical thinking…’  (Slate, via New Scientist).

Scientists discover three galaxies merging in the dawn of the universe

‘This exceedingly rare triple system, seen when the universe was only 800 million years old [which is cosmic terms is the equivalent to the first 3.8 years of our lives], provides important insights into the earliest stages of galaxy formation during a period known as ‘cosmic dawn,’ when the universe was first bathed in starlight.’ (Gizmodo).

This Painting Of The Danish Royal Family Will Steal Your Soul

This Painting Of The Danish Royal Family Will Steal Your Soul | Co.Design | business + design

‘When the Queen of Denmark opted to commission the first royal family portrait in almost 125 years, she turned to Thomas Kluge, a largely self-taught Danish portrait painter whose inspirations are said to include Rembrandt and Caravaggio. After four years of work, Kluge\’s finished painting is finally here: an inexplicably creepy portrait that reimagines the royal family as a clan of sadists, transvestites, and malevolent pigmen whose abominable ruttings have brought into the world a brood of Damien-like progeny.’ (Co.Design via Boing Boing)

Boeing’s Massive Dreamlifter Lands at the Wrong Airport, Gets Stuck

‘Pilots flying Boeing’s massive 747 Dreamlifter accidentally landed at the wrong airport yesterday, and have been stuck there overnight. The modified jumbo jets hopscotch the world picking up sections of the 787 Dreamliner and flying them to the company’s factories in Everett, Washington and North Charleston, South Carolina. But last night instead of landing at McConnell Air Force Base where the nose sections are made by Spirit Aerosystems, they landed several miles away at Jabara airport. No big deal? Big deal: The runway at Jabara is only 6,101 feet long, a bit shorter than the 747′s normal takeoff requirements…’ (Wired.com).

Lots of interesting stuff at Salon today

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Something for everyone’s taste:

“Falling Upwards”: The weird and wonderful history of the hot air balloon: At the beginning of “Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air,” Richard Holmes announces a literary ambition to match the aerial ambition of his air balloon pilots and pioneers, by offering a lengthy chapter of epigraphs not unlike the long list of quotations that Herman Melville deployed at the beginning of “Moby-Dick.”There is so much pleasure in them that it is worth quoting a few in full:“…Climate denying group compares U.N. talks to the Holocaust: “There simply is no parallel” between the climate negotiations currently taking place in Poland and the horrors that took place at Auschwitz and Birkenau during the Holocaust, David Rothbard, head of the anti-science Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), wrote in a fundraising email unearthed by DeSmogBlog….This incredibly smart domestic violence app could save women’s lives: The Aspire News app looks like any other iPhone or Android news aggregator, but it’s actually a potentially lifesaving domestic violence alert system.While the front page functions like a regular news app, when you go to the “Help” section of the page it provides a list of local domestic violence resources and a “Go Button,” that, once pressed, alerts the user’s chosen contacts…Michael Cera’s bizarre New Yorker piece and the art of dissecting fame: Call it the Franco strategy: As James Franco did in 2008, it’s possible to cement one’s celebrity by alternating movie work with writing intended to subvert one’s public image. Back when James Franco set out on his conceptual-art project of a career, beginning to aggressively collect graduate degrees and directing more films than one can easily recall, he had been slowly rising for years…Wal-mart’s outstanding death fine: Five years ago, when Wal-mart worker Jdimytai Damour was crushed and killed by Black Friday shoppers in Valley Stream, NY (file under “vile semiotics of consumer capitalism”), the retailer was ordered to pay a minimal fine to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. While the $7,000 fine is negligible to Wal-mart’s $466 billion annual sales income, the sum remains unpaid…Law enforcement reportedly told victim of alleged sexual assault her life would be “made miserable” if she pursued rape case: Florida police told the victim of an alleged rape that her life would be “made miserable” if she pursued charges against her alleged rapist, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, according to a statement from the woman’s family.A Tallahassee Police Department detective warned the woman’s attorney that “Tallahassee was a big football town’’ and “the victim needs to think long and hard…Senate votes to curb filibuster: WASHINGTON (AP) — In a victory for Democrats, the Senate has voted to weaken filibusters and make it harder for Republicans to block confirmation of the president’s nominees for judges and other top posts.The mostly party-line vote was 52-48. It came Thursday after a series of procedural moves and angry accusations from both parties’ leaders.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid complains that Republicans…Plastic pollution may be transporting toxic chemicals into our seafood: Plastic pollution is already seen as one of the most serious threats to the oceans — particularly those teeny particles that we can’t normally see, but which fish love to eat. Another serious threat: the man-made chemicals dumped or washed into the waters. And while each is worrisome on its own, they cause even more trouble combined.That’s because plastics, as researchers are beginning to understand…Secret deal let NSA spy on ordinary U.K. citizens: The latest NSA leak from whistle-blower Edward Snowden, published in the Guardian, reveals for the first time that ordinary British citizens had their communications surveilled by the NSA, without any grounds for suspicion.A secret 2007 deal struck between the U.K. and the U.S. — and detailed in an NSA memo — enabled surveillance of citizens previously deemed off-limits….Dudes still upset that women can be raunchy: Variety critic Brian Lowry is worried about Sarah Silverman. In his Wednesday review of her new HBO special “We Are Miracles,” he acknowledges her numerous “career-friendly gifts – from her looks to solid acting chops,” but fears that the famously foul-mouthed comic is sabotaging herself. How? By daring to be “as dirty and distasteful as the boys.” …The National Book Awards get it right: I was surprised to learn that James McBride’s “The Good Lord Bird” was the “surprise” winner of the National Book Award for fiction last night. Then again, it’s hard to begrudge working journalists a decent angle on the prize during any year in which neither Jonathan Franzen nor Philip Roth has published a book that can be “snubbed” by the panel. …Monty Python reunion show will add “modern, topical” twist to classic sketches: Following news of a reunion show, the five surviving members of Monty Python revealed more details of the performance that is to take place on July 1, 2014, in London’s O2 Arena.John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones will perform some of the group’s most iconic sketches with “a modern, topical, Pythonesque twist,” along with some new material as well.“…Rick Perry on changing the GOP’s presidential debate system: “Hell yeah!” Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the man who, during a televised debate, couldn’t remember which federal agencies he’d dissolve, has a simple response to the idea of changing the way the GOP conducts its debates: “Hell yeah!”That’s what Perry reportedly said, to laughter, during a recent meeting of the Republican Governors Association.Ohio Gov. John Kasich set Perry up for the joke when he commented…Watch Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA rapping about the Big Bang: Rapper GZA, of Wu-Tang Clan fame, is releasing a space-themed album called Dark Matter. He’s even been chatting with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson about the project. Here, as part of a talk at the University of Toronto, he previewed an a cappella version of one track. It’s about the Big Bang. And it is tremendous.[Mashable] …Will George Zimmerman kill again?: His history and the law pose serious risks…      (Salon.com).

The Dunbar Number and Human Relationships

‘150 is “the approximate number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.” 150 is often referred to as the Dunbar number.

Ten years ago, Robin Dunbar studied the sending of Christmas cards in England. He used the count to measure meaningful social connections. The number sent averaged 153.5, precisely what Dunbar expected. He and other researchers kept finding groupings of 150; self-governing communes, offices of Gore-Tex, etc. Dunbar postulates that this is simply the brain’s limit. Sure, there are outliers, but most people top out at 150 relationships…

“Fundamentally, once you go beyond this number of people you can keep in your head, you begin to filter yourself, you change what you share and how much, you put on your public face.” …

Dunbar plotted the size of the neocortex of each type of primate with the size group that it lived in. The bigger the neocortex, the larger the group. To predict human group size, Dunbar supplanted the ratio of the human neocortex into the group. The result? 147.8, roughly 150…

Dunbar says within the 150, there are other interesting numbers. Three to five are our closest friends. The death of any of our 12-15 closest would devastate us….’ (dirjournal.com).

The ‘race paradox in mental health’

Despite inarguably vast stress levels, multiple measures since the mid-’90s have shown that African Americans are psychologically healthier than Caucasian Americans. The phenomenon is formally described as the “race paradox in mental health”.

And it is not simply a matter of lower rates of diagnosis or detection. More credible speculations have pointed to more supportive family relationships or what are called “fictive kin” relationships, the unofficial family structures that develop in communities not dominated by standard nuclear family structures.

But, in an investigation published last week, Dawne Mouzon, a Rutgers sociologist, dispensed with much of the received wisdom, writing that “neither the quality nor quality of family relationships can explain the race paradox in mental health.” Instead,  “it is plausible that African Americans possess other resilience mechanisms (e.g., other social relationships, different types of coping strategies) that I was unable to consider here.” (The Last Word On Nothing).

A Neuroscientist’s Radical Theory of How Networks Become Conscious

‘It’s a question that’s perplexed philosophers for centuries and scientists for decades: Where does consciousness come from? We know it exists, at least in ourselves. But how it arises from chemistry and electricity in our brains is an unsolved mystery.

Neuroscientist Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, thinks he might know the answer. According to Koch, consciousness arises within any sufficiently complex, information-processing system. All animals, from humans on down to earthworms, are conscious; even the internet could be. That’s just the way the universe works.’ (Wired Science).

Why You Need Not Fear the Poor, Misunderstood Brown Recluse Spider

‘It’s hard to think of a critter that inspires as much hyperbolic hysteria as the brown recluse spider. They’re pretty much universally hated. If you believe the tales, these small arachnids are biting people all day, every day, producing massive, stinking flesh-craters that require months of intensive care and perhaps a prosthetic appendage. Sometimes, it seems these spiders have nothing better to do than hunker down in dark corners throughout North America, waiting for tender human skin to present itself.

Though there are strands of truth in the hype, on the whole, it’s bunk.’ (Wired Science).

Avoid Making These Hand Signals When Traveling Abroad

3 Finger Sustainability Salute in Mali, West A...

The chances of accidentally insulting someone is greater when you travel internationally, thanks to differing customs and ideas of etiquette. Even common hand gestures can signal the wrong thing.

Mental Floss has gathered five hand signals that don’t mean what you might think, depending on the country you’re in. A thumbs up, for example, doesn’t mean “good job” in parts of Latin America, West Africa, Iran, and Sardinia—it’s more like giving someone the finger. Likewise, the peace sign is not so peaceful in the UK, depending on how your palm is turned, and the okay sign does not mean “okay” in the Middle East, Turkey, Germany, or Brazil.

Before you travel to a foreign country, it’s best to review the etiquette and customs, including when it comes to eating. Or, in case of doubt, just to avoid making hand gestures all together.’  (Lifehacker).

This Town Wants to Warn You About Its People-Eating Vortex

‘Watertown, New York is the last place you\’d expect to find a creepy, supernatural mystery. After all, they\’re mostly known as the birthplace of the safety pin and those air fresheners for your car that are shaped like trees – both safe, friendly things. But now, it seems that they’re finally ready to admit that they\’re becoming more well known for their local park’s nasty habit of eating people.

Last week, the city officials erected a sign in the park warning locals of the \”vortex\”. As it turns out, the Mayor himself felt compelled to acknowledge the rumors after digging up some recently declassified information linking Watertown to the infamous Area 51 base in Nevada.’ (Roadtrippers).

Why don’t more Americans have this most common name?

English: John Smiths' old factory This factory...‘More than 7,000 Americans named John Smith have gone missing.  Smith is unchallenged as the most numerous surname in the U.S., some 28 percent ahead of second-place Johnson, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and WhitePages.com. And, based on the most recent available data from these sources, John heads the list of the most frequent first names. And yet, John Smith doesn’t even rank in the top 10 combinations of first and last name in the country. What happened? Where did all the John Smiths go?’ (Slate)

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Lacking Lethal Injection Drugs, States Find Untested Backups

‘The U.S. is facing a shortage of a drug widely used for lethal injections. With few options, states are turning to new drugs and compounding pharmacies, rather than overseas companies.

The move is raising safety concerns, and in some cases delaying executions. Other executions are proceeding, however, and advocates are asking whether the use of new drugs violates the inmates’ Eighth Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment…’ (NPR)

Not Just Coffee

The Reverend Billy leading an anti-Starbucks p...
The Reverend Billy leading an anti-Starbucks protest in Austin, Texas in 2007

‘It is not just a Starbucks’ coffee that you get when you walk through the café doors; it is a Starbucks’ experience. It was after careful psychological research that the company first decided to have white cups with green writing, “tall” lattes, natural materials, and round tables…’ (Whittaker Associates)

12 novelists tell their scariest bite-size stories

‘The two-sentence horror story has become something of a genre — a super-popular Reddit thread this summer spawned numerous compilations. In honor of Halloween, Salon asked 12 novelists to try their hand at the form. Below are their ghostly, bloody, watery and surprisingly pet-focused forays into darkness.’ (Salon.com).

East Coast: Wake Up Early Sunday For An Eclipse Not Seen Since 1854

Eclipse Anular
Eclipse Anular (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘Sunday morning at 6:45AM, folks on the east coast will have a chance to see a very rare hybrid solar eclipse. The last one occurred 150 years ago, and the next one won\’t come until the year 2172, so make sure you set your alarm.

Let\’s talk terminology. An annular eclipse is the \”ring of fire\” type, where a small ring of sunlight shines around the moon. A total eclipse is where the moon blocks the sun completely. The hybrid eclipse has both phases: a ring is briefly visible, then the moon blocks out the sun completely, then (sometimes) the ring reappears. They\’re exceedingly rare — fewer than five percent of eclipses are hybrids.’ (Gizmodo).

Dog tail-wagging takes sides, scientists determine

English: Supersonic Wag This cute pooch was be...

‘When humans see a dog wagging its tail, we pretty much equate that with a happy dog. It turns out that a dogs tail may be much more expressive than we realize. Research has shown that happy dogs tend to wag more to the right, while anxious dogs go more to the left. A new study published in the journal Current Biology delves into the question of whether other dogs read this response.’ (CNET).