Tuesday, August 31, 2010


"Our souls belong to our bodies, not our bodies to our souls."  - Herman Melville

Hoffman's Keys

Mo at Neurophilosophy:
ON August 15th, 1951, an outbreak of hallucinations, panic attacks and psychotic episodes swept through the town of Saint-Pont-Esprit in southern France, hospitalizing dozens of its inhabitants and leaving five people dead. Doctors concluded that the incident occurred because bread in one of the town's bakeries had been contaminated with ergot, a toxic fungus that grows on rye. But according to investigative journalist Hank Albarelli, the CIA had actually dosed the bread with d-lysergic acid diethylamide-25 (LSD), an extremely potent hallucinogenic drug derived from ergot, as part of a mind control research project.
Although we may never learn the truth behind the events at Saint-Pont-Esprit, it is now well known that the United States Army experimented with LSD on willing and unwilling military personnel and civilians. Less well known is the work of a group of psychiatrists working in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, who pioneered the use of LSD as a treatment for alcoholism, and claimed that it produced unprecedented rates of recovery. Their findings were soon brushed under the carpet, however, and research into the potential therapeutic effects of psychedelics was abruptly halted in the late 1960s, leaving a promising avenue of research unexplored for some 40 years.
More here.  (h/t Scienceblogs, and Robin Varghese)

Hitchens on Beck-Dreck

Hitch in Slate:
so strong is the moral stature of the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement that even the white right prefers to pretend to emulate it. (This smarmy tactic long predates Glenn Beck, by the way: I remember Ralph Reed trying it when he ran the Christian Coalition more than 10 years ago and announced that he wanted to remodel the organization along the lines of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.) Thus, it is really quite rare to hear slurs against President Barack Obama that are based purely on the color of his skin. Even Beck himself has tried to back away from the smears of that kind that he has spread in the past. But it is increasingly common to hear allegations that Obama is either foreign-born or a Muslim. And these insinuations are perfectly emblematic of the two main fears of the old majority: that it will be submerged by an influx from beyond the borders and that it will be challenged.
This summer, then, has been the perfect register of the new anxiety, beginning with the fracas over Arizona's immigration law, gaining in intensity with the proposal by some Republicans to amend the 14th Amendment so as to de-naturalize "anchor babies," cresting with the continuing row over the so-called "Ground Zero" mosque, and culminating, at least symbolically, with a quasi-educated Mormon broadcaster calling for a Christian religious revival from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
More Here.

Monday, August 30, 2010


"A censor is a man who knows more than he thinks you ought to."  - Granville Hicks. 

I might add 'mistakes that he' before 'knows more.'  Just sayin'.

Dennett on A.I.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Color of 1910

This rare series of photos was taken 100 years ago in Tsar Nicholas II's Russia.  The photographer took triplicate black and white photos, in quick succession, each with a red, green, and blue filter.  The resulting color photographs seem incredible to modern eyes, trained to see the distant past in different tones.

I have to admit that, though I always knew it was ridiculous to imagine the past appeared any different to the present, these photos have a jarring effect on me.  Remember that these were shot before the Russian Revolution, and the First and Second World Wars.  The full series can be found HERE.

(h/t 3QD)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


"Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear."  - Thomas Jefferson

A Protest by Prayer

Why don't people get behind a peaceful protest movement in which Muslims pray at ground zero, everyday, until hysteria boils over and then evaporates? A protest like this would expose the irrationality at the core of setting arbitrary geographical limits on where the faithful should worship without fear of persecution or harassment.

It would, judging from recent events, manifest some ugliness on which the media would feast, but perhaps a visible distillation of the emotions driving Cordoba opposition would end up being corrective.  Muslims could simultaneously exercise their right to peaceably assemble and their right to worship, as protest for being made to shoulder the collective guilt for actions taken by terrorists. Just a thought.

I'm no friend to religion. And when it comes to tolerance and human rights, Islam has certain structural, or doctrinal, challenges that have not been ameliorated by any significant reformation. As well, Imam Rauf may have said things that rub me the wrong way, though he's hardly an extremist maniac (our State Department employs him as an emissary). None of these factors, however, should prompt us to behave in a way that fuels the Jihadist argument that America is fighting a war against Islam, while also convincing moderates that they 'offend our sensibilities'. A tolerant America that embraces religious freedom, not just technically but truly, embodies precisely those values which Islamic Jihadis despise with every one of their few and pathetic fibers. That it would anger Islamists, alone, is not reason enough to support any position. Though, in this case, the position in question has the added quality of being in keeping with important American values.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Forget "Running Out of Steam..."

that will never happen.  Running out of gas, however, could be a different story.  Nobel laureate Robert Richardson says our cavalier use of helium is a serious threat.  Should party balloons cost $100 each?  I pity the pol who makes that argument.  "Hydrogen balloons for the kids" will not go over very well.

Raw-Foodists, Relent

Raw-food demagoguery never fails to irritate me in the very special way only a neo-luddite fad can.

Richard Wrangham covers most of the reasons in this great TED-style talk. Yes, certain compounds may be degraded by high temperatures, but vastly more nutrients are simultaneously made available for easy digestion (through cell-wall rupture, for instance). The ability to cook food played an integral role in our evolutionary success.

Harvard Thinks Big 2010 - Richard Wrangham - 'Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human' from HTB2 on Vimeo.
(h/t Dish)

Sunday, August 22, 2010


"With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."  - Steven Weinberg

Friday, August 20, 2010


"Everybody hates me because I'm so universally liked."  - Peter de Vries

Light vs. Copyright

Was copyright law, or lack thereof, responsible for Germany's rapid industrial and economic expansion in the 19th century?  German historian Eckhard Höffner thinks so.  Frank Thadeusz in Der Spiegel:
Höffner has researched that early heyday of printed material in Germany and reached a surprising conclusion -- unlike neighboring England and France, Germany experienced an unparalleled explosion of knowledge in the 19th century.
German authors during this period wrote ceaselessly. Around 14,000 new publications appeared in a single year in 1843....  The situation in England was very different. "For the period of the Enlightenment and bourgeois emancipation, we see deplorable progress in Great Britain," Höffner states...
Indeed, only 1,000 new works appeared annually in England at that time -- 10 times fewer than in Germany -- and this was not without consequences. Höffner believes it was the chronically weak book market that caused England, the colonial power, to fritter away its head start within the span of a century, while the underdeveloped agrarian state of Germany caught up rapidly, becoming an equally developed industrial nation by 1900.
Even more startling is the factor Höffner believes caused this development -- in his view, it was none other than copyright law, which was established early in Great Britain, in 1710, that crippled the world of knowledge in the United Kingdom.
More here.

Dali on "What's My Line?"

TV gold:

(h/t Stephen Fry)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stunning - STS-124 Launch w/ Sound

Prepare to be moved (starting at 2:00 mark).


"When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, 'Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don't believe?'"  - Quentin Crisp

Israel, Iran, and Goldberg

Robert Wright and Mickey Kaus critique the reaction to Jeffrey Goldberg's article for the Atlantic, as well as the article itself.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The New Science of Morality

Videos from the Edge conference The New Science of Morality can be found HERE.

Speakers include:  Roy Baumeister,  Paul Bloom,  Joshua D. Greene,  Jonathan Haidt,  Sam Harris,  Marc D. Hauser,  Josua Knobe,  Elizabeth Phelps,  David Pizarro.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Diablo Rojo

Rodrigo y Gabriela perform Diablo Rojo:

We Will Absolutely Say "I Told You So,"

repeatedly, as each new report of low-vaccination rate correlated outbreak emerges, and for as long as the misinformation is spread.  From NPR:
California is in the midst of its worst outbreak of whooping cough in a half-century. More than 2,700 cases have been reported so far this year — eight times last year's number at this point. Seven of the victims, all infants, have died.
And here's what really worries pediatricians like USC's Harvey Karp: Doctors thought they wiped out whooping cough when they developed vaccines decades ago.
The disease hits young children hardest, especially ones who are not vaccinated or who have not yet built up full immunity. The prescribed vaccination regimen begins with a shot at two months and continues until children are 5 years old. For many children, it can take that long for complete immunity to develop — and until then, they're vulnerable.
The California epidemic has raised plenty of questions about the role of vaccination and the increasing numbers of parents who decide not to vaccinate their children. California's Department of Public Health cites three schools in the state where 80 percent of parents have signed a "personal belief exemption" to keep their children from being vaccinated.
That's part of what's behind this epidemic, Dr. Karp tells NPR's Guy Raz. "And it's in part because the immunity of people who were immunized earlier has waned," he adds.
More here.


"I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this."  - Emo Phillips

Love Can Get You Stoned...

A couple was discovered dead in Afganistan yesterday, having been stoned for planning to elope:
They were discovered by the Taliban on Sunday and stoned to death in front a crowd of about 150 men.
Amnesty International said it was the first confirming stoning in Afghanistan since the fall of Taliban rule in the 2001 US-led invasion. The Taliban-ordered killing comes at a time when international rights groups have raised worries that attempts to negotiate with them to bring peace to Afghanistan could mean a step backward for human rights in the country.
Read full report from UKPA.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

High Stakes, Fates, and Rogue States

Image credit: Alex Williamson 

Jeffrey Goldberg's cover story for The Atlantic is a must read for anyone interested in the possible permutations of US and Israeli policy toward Iran.  He thinks, more likely than sanctions working or Obama launching a strike,
that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran—possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq’s airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft. (It’s so crowded, in fact, that the United States Central Command, whose area of responsibility is the greater Middle East, has already asked the Pentagon what to do should Israeli aircraft invade its airspace. According to multiple sources, the answer came back: do not shoot them down.)

In these conversations, which will be fraught, the Israelis will tell their American counterparts that they are taking this drastic step because a nuclear Iran poses the gravest threat since Hitler to the physical survival of the Jewish people. The Israelis will also state that they believe they have a reasonable chance of delaying the Iranian nuclear program for at least three to five years. They will tell their American colleagues that Israel was left with no choice. They will not be asking for permission, because it will be too late to ask for permission.
When the Israelis begin to bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, the formerly secret enrichment site at Qom, the nuclear-research center at Esfahan, and possibly even the Bushehr reactor, along with the other main sites of the Iranian nuclear program, a short while after they depart en masse from their bases across Israel—regardless of whether they succeed in destroying Iran’s centrifuges and warhead and missile plants, or whether they fail miserably to even make a dent in Iran’s nuclear program—they stand a good chance of changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel’s only meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel’s conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.
If a strike does succeed in crippling the Iranian nuclear program, however, Israel, in addition to possibly generating some combination of the various catastrophes outlined above, will have removed from its list of existential worries the immediate specter of nuclear-weaponized, theologically driven, eliminationist anti-Semitism; it may derive for itself the secret thanks (though the public condemnation) of the Middle East’s moderate Arab regimes, all of which fear an Iranian bomb with an intensity that in some instances matches Israel’s; and it will have succeeded in countering, in militant fashion, the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, which is, not irrelevantly, a prime goal of the enthusiastic counter-proliferator who currently occupies the White House.
Read the full article here. It also includes a short video interview with Hitch and Amis on the subject.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Warren For Consumer Financial Protection

Reid Cramer thinks a vehemently bitter confirmation battle will meet anyone President Obama nominates to head the newly minted Consumer Financial Protection Agency (really, you don't say?). There is in this fight, however, an opportunity to illuminate for the public the fundamental contrasts between the Neo-Republican and the Democratic parties, as they head into an election.  A tough contest could also set the tenor of relations between the new regulator and the regulated, which should not, of course, be a cozy and comfortable one.  It's hard to disagree:
A battle against congressional antagonists and an array of financial firms can readily be turned into political advantage. By creating a clear contrast in which Obama and the Democrats line up on the side of families facing off against financiers, the president can embolden his political supporters and rally the base before the fall elections.

Perhaps more consequentially, a high-profile confirmation battle can serve vital policy goals. This is because effective government oversight requires competence and vigilance, but the essential—often overlooked—ingredient is empowerment. Regulatory agencies have to resist forming cozy relationships. At many turns, regulatory law opts for discretion rather than dictates. This means an agency can turn up the heat or turn it down with a large degree of autonomy. History shows that it takes a large dose of political will for an agency and its officials to resist the dangerous phenomenon of regulatory capture. There may be no better way to demonstrate resolve than by commencing the inevitable battle at the get-go, during the confirmation process...

But the same interest groups will line up against any nominee. And if that’s the case, the show ought to begin with a star. Warren's visibility and public credibility certainly can be tremendous assets in such a clash. She's a highly effective communicator and has received high marks in running the Congressional Oversight Panel (which should mitigate some of the whispers that she doesn't have sufficient management experience). She will garner the full throated endorsements of many ready to back her up during the confirmation battle

Winning this showdown is crucial for getting the policy reform process underway. Whoever is nominated, he or she should be expected to explain clearly how the law establishes a new accountability framework and be prepared to fight in the regulatory trenches to implement it. Exerting authority right out of the gate will make it easier for the new agency to play tough. Issuing cease-and-desist orders, filing lawsuits, and seeking damages should become commonplace and signal that there will be no tolerance for the marketing of financial products deemed unfair or deceptive. A high-profile confirmation battle—supported and waged by the White House—will not only be a clear demonstration there's a new cop on the beat, but that the Obama administration is ready and willing to do what it takes to put the financial pirates out of business for good.  (Reid Cramer's full article here)
There are few in Washington who come across as trustworthy as does Elizabeth Warren.  In fact, indeed I may regret saying this, she sometimes gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling.  She's tough, honest, and can, with ease, communicate the justifications for whatever actions she may take.  That is why Wall-Street is scared of her.  Hopefully they can channel that fear into a proper respect for the new regulations, mild as they may be.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Science, Society and the Meaning of Life

Lord Martin Rees, Patricia Smith Churchland, AC Grayling:

Consider the Morality of Allied Bombing on the Anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki -

A truly great discussion.


I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week sometimes to make it up.  - Mark Twain

Sunday, August 8, 2010

QFTD x 2

In science, "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.  - Stephen Jay Gould

Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge. - Carl Sagan

Hitchens on Goldblog

Friday, August 6, 2010

Fareed Zakaria Returns Award to ADL

Fareed Zakaria has taken a principled stand against the ADL's opposition to the Cordoba Center, an opposition blatantly in conflict with the organization's own charter.  His letter to the ADL explains:
You are choosing to use your immense prestige to take a side that is utterly opposed to the animating purpose of your organization. Your own statements subsequently, asserting that we must honor the feelings of victims even if irrational or bigoted, made matters worse.
This is not the place to debate the press release or your statements. Many have done this and I have written about it in Newsweek and on my television show – both of which will be out over the weekend. The purpose of this letter is more straightforward. I cannot in good conscience hold onto the award or the honorarium that came with it and am returning both. I hope that it might add to the many voices that have urged you to reconsider and reverse your position on this issue.  This decision will haunt the ADL for years if not decades to come. Whether or not the center is built, what is at stake here is the integrity of the ADL and its fidelity to its mission. Admitting an error is a small price to pay to regain your reputation.
Cordoba Article Here.
Letter to ADL Here.

Monday, August 2, 2010

ADL Doublethink

Peter Beinart rips into the Anti-Defamation League for their self-defeating opposition to the planned Muslim community center near ground zero:
For a long time now, the ADL seems to have assumed that it could exempt Israel from the principles in its charter and yet remain just as faithful to that charter inside the United States. But now the chickens are coming back home to America to roost. The ADL’s rationale for opposing the Ground Zero mosque is that “building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain—unnecessarily—and that is not right.” Huh? What if white victims of African-American crime protested the building of a black church in their neighborhood? Or gentile victims of Bernie Madoff protested the building of a synagogue? Would the ADL for one second suggest that sensitivity toward people victimized by members of a certain religion or race justifies discriminating against other, completely innocent, members of that religion or race? Of course not. But when it comes to Muslims, the standards are different. They are different in Israel, and now, it is clear, they are different in the United States, too.
What most churns my stomach is that those who seek to ban this center seem oblivious to their becoming ever more like the forces of intolerance we would legitimately oppose overseas.  This is the United States, to highlight the obvious.  We do not ban religious centers, and let's please hope we never will.

The ADL's charter says one thing, while the ADL itself is entirely happy to do the other.  It is a true shame.

More Here.