The essential American is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.

—  D H Lawrence

Kill War

Oct. 31, 2010

This War Has Lasted Too Long

War Lasts, Soldiers Don’t

Top Ten Reasons why wars of choice last too long:

Political leaders get trapped by their own beliefs.
Information in war is often ambiguous.

The “sunk cost fallacy.”
Political leaders have little incentive to admit mistakes and reverse course.

The people who got you into the war aren’t the ones who can get you out.
Great powers can always fight on.

The military hates losing.
The people at the top may not know how bad things really are.

Exaggerated concern for “credibility.”
National pride.


Sometime before February 2010, the President of the United States authorised the assassination of a US citizen living overseas, identified by the White House as a terrorist.  Unlike previous government programmes to kill individuals overseas, this one wasn’t covert but was openly announced, without qualification.  The president’s National Security Adviser announced that the marked man was one of “dozens” of US citizens put on the presidential death list because “they are very concerning to us.”  The principal of unfettered executive power, absent political and judicial restraint, was officially established.  Executive power now supercedes established law.  The US has come to the point where the president can openly designate a US citizen as a terrorist thus removing all rights, including the right to life.   The administration implies that this is for overseas targets only.  But recall that the illegal wiretapping programme was originally for overseas calls only; it rapidly spread to domestic surveillance as well.  The US has laws requiring investigation, indictment, and trial prior to applying any sentence, let alone the death penalty.  Those laws were cast aside, replaced by executive fiat.  Who spoke out against this assumption of executive prerogative?  Very few.  What is the next step?  Will terrorists designated by the executive branch be targeted for execution in what is now referred to as the homeland?  Two civil rights groups seek to stop the programme based on longstanding and clear US and international law.  The administration’s response is that the suit should be dismissed since a trial would require the release of state “secrets” – that is, the reasons and motives for their extra-judicial murders and how their information was obtained.  The executive branch simply declares that its decisions are beyond any review.


Anwar Al-Awlaki may be the first American on the CIA’s kill or capture list, but he was also a lunch guest of military brass at the Pentagon in 2002.  The incident was flagged by a current Defense Department employee who came forward and told investigators she helped arrange the meeting after she saw Awlaki speak in Alexandria, Virginia.  The employee “attended this talk and recalls being impressed by this imam.  He condemned Al Qaeda and the terrorist attacks.  During his talk he was 'harassed’ by members of the audience and suffered it well,” reads one document.  Awlaki, a Yemeni-American who was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, was interviewed at least 4 times by the FBI in the first week after the attacks because of his ties to 3 hijackers onboard Flight 77 that slammed into the Pentagon.  So after that, the Pentagon invites him to lunch?   Army spokesman Thomas Collins said he believed the event was sponsored by the office of the Secretary of Defense.  The Defense Department employee responsible for inviting Awlaki to lunch said [pdf] that when she read years later in the newspaper that he was a radical cleric hostile to the United States, he was “either a good liar or … later something happened … I don’t know.”  Someone is a good liar.

“A day after 9/11, I was asked on CNN if Osama bin Laden was behind the attack.  'We have yet to see the evidence,’ I replied.  I maintain this position today.  Bin Laden denied he or al-Qaida was behind 9/11 and the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.  The plot was hatched in Hamburg, Germany and Madrid, Spain, not Afghanistan.  A Pakistani, Khaled Sheik Mohammed, claimed he was the mastermind — after the CIA tortured him by near-drowning 183 times.  While denying involvement, bin Laden did say he believed the attack was in part motivated by Israel’s destruction of downtown Beirut during its 1982 invasion of Lebanon that caused some 18,000 civilian deaths.  Tapes that appear to confirm bin Laden’s guilt are clumsy fakes supposedly 'found’ in Afghanistan by the anti-Taliban Afghan Northern Alliance.  After 9/11, Secretary of State Colin Powell promised Americans the State Department would issue a White Paper detailing bin Laden’s guilt.  Afghanistan’s Taliban government asked for this document before extraditing him as the US demanded.  The White Paper was never produced and, ignoring proper legal procedure, the US invaded Afghanistan.  We still await that evidence.  Of the 19 hijackers, 15 were Saudis, 2 from the United Arab Emirates, one an Egyptian and one a Lebanese.  The danger and size of al-Qaida is vastly exaggerated — as the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies confirms.  Al-Qaida never had more than 300 members at its peak.  Today, according to CIA chief Leon Panetta, there are no more than 50 in Afghanistan.  Yet President Obama tripled the number of US troops there to 120,000 because of 'the al-Qaida threat.’  What goes on?  The 9/11 suicide team made clear its aim was to punish the US for backing Israel’s repression of Palestinians and anger over US 'occupation’ of Saudi Arabia.  Though all were Muslims, religion was not their motivation.   No hard evidence exists to date that 9/11 was a plot by America’s far right or Israel or is a giant cover-up – yet it is at a minimum the Mother of All Coincidences.” — Journalist Eric Margolis


Trivia: Osama bin Laden has 25 brothers and half-brothers.  And 53 sisters and half-sisters.  The dad, Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden, died in 1967; he died in a private plane crash while on his way to marry his 23rd wife.

Historical Nuclear Near-Misses

On 1 September 1983 the South Korean civilian airliner Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down over the Sea of Japan in prohibited Soviet airspace.  All 269 passengers and crew aboard were killed, including a US Congressman.  The attack brought relations between the two superpowers to a new public low.  On the night of 26 September 1983, the Soviet orbital Missile Early Warning System reported a single intercontinental ballistic missile launch from the territory of the US.  Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, on duty during the incident, correctly dismissed the warning as a computer error when ground early warning radars detected no launches.  Part of his reasoning was that the system was new and had malfunctioned before; also, a full-scale nuclear attack from the US would involve thousands of simultaneous launches, not a single missile.  Later, the system reported 4 more ICBM launches headed to the Soviet Union, but Petrov again dismissed the reports as false.  The investigation that followed revealed that the system had indeed malfunctioned and the false alarms were caused by a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds.  Archer 83 was a 10-day NATO command post exercise starting on 2 November 1983 that spanned Western Europe, situated north of the Belgian city of Mons.  Able Archer exercises simulated a period of conflict escalation, culminating in a coordinated nuclear release.  This exercise incorporated a new, unique format of coded communication, radio silences, participation by heads of state, and a simulated nuclear alert.  The realistic nature of the exercise, deteriorating relations between the US and the Soviet Union, and the anticipated arrival of Pershing II nuclear missiles in Europe, led some members of the Soviet Politburo to think that Able Archer 83 was a ruse, obscuring preparations for a genuine nuclear first strike.   The Soviet Union believed its only chance of surviving a NATO strike was to preempt it; their nuclear arsenal was readied and air units in East Germany and Poland were placed on alert.  This relatively obscure incident is considered by many historians to be the closest the world has come to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.  The threat of nuclear war abruptly ended with the conclusion of the Able Archer 83 exercise on 11 November.  The GIUK gap is an area in the northern Atlantic Ocean that forms a naval warfare chokepoint.  Its name (typically used in military topics) is an acronym for Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom, the gap being the open ocean between these landmasses.

The Norwegian rocket incident (or Black Brant scare) refers to a few minutes of post-Cold War nuclear tension that took place on 25 January 1995, more than 4 years after the end of the Cold War.  The incident started when a team of Norwegian and American scientists launched a Black Brant XII 4-stage sounding rocket from the Andøya Rocket Range off the northwest coast of Norway.  The rocket, which carried equipment to study the aurora borealis over Svalbard, flew on a high northbound trajectory, which included an air corridor stretching from the North Dakota Minuteman-III silos all the way to Moscow; it eventually reached an altitude of 1,453 kilometres (903 miles).  Nuclear forces in Russia were put on alert and the nuclear-command suitcase was brought to President Boris Yeltsin, who then had to decide whether to launch a nuclear barrage against the US.  One possibility was that the rocket had been a solitary radar-blocking electromagnetic pulse (EMP) rocket launched from a Trident missile at sea in order to blind Russian radars in the first stage of a surprise attack.  In this scenario, gamma rays from a high-altitude nuclear detonation could create an EMP wave that would confuse radars and incapacitate electronic equipment.  After that, according to the scenario, the real attack would start.  It is reported that President Yeltsin activated his “nuclear keys” for the first time in his tenure.  Russian submarine commanders were ordered to go into a state of combat readiness and prepare for nuclear retaliation.  Russian doctrine reportedly allowed Yeltsin 10 minutes from the time of detection to decide on a course of action.  Russian observers quickly determined that the rocket was heading away from Russian airspace and was not a threat.  Reports differ as to whether or not Yeltsin came close to authorising an attack but the general consensus is that he was rapidly able to conclude there was no danger.  The rocket fell to earth as planned near Spitsbergen 24 minutes after launch.

In July 1961, President Kennedy, just back from a grim Vienna summit with Khrushchev, told the story of Khrushchev’s anger over West Berlin, the island of freedom in the Soviet empire’s East Germany.  Kennedy said, "You know, they have an atom bomb on the 3rd floor of their Washington embassy ."   It was Kennedy’s understanding that the Soviets had brought the components of an atomic device into the building in inspection-free diplomatic pouches and assembled it in the upstairs attic.  “If things get too bad and war is inevitable,” he said, “they will set it off and that’s the end of the White House and the rest of the city.”  Kennedy concluded, “That’s what I’m told.”  No sign of mirth.  The conversation moved on.  One man, who worked for 25 years at the Defense Intelligence Agency, agreed when he heard this.  “You may not believe that story about the bomb in the attic, but I do.  That was our understanding.”

NZ Labour party’s “polling company, multinational UMR, is in the field right now.  Details of the questions and the structure have been leaked to me.  If this is the standard of their polling then Labour is in real trouble.”  [I don’t know if this post is real or satirical — but for my purposes, it doesn’t really matter.]  "Last Question:
Here are several serious accusations that some people have made in recent years.  Please tell me if you think each of these is very likely, somewhat likely or unlikely.

  • People in the United States of America government either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action to stop the attacks because they wanted the US to go to war in the Middle East.
  • The United States of America government staged or faked the Apollo moon landing.
  • Scientific claims about climate change and rising temperatures around the world have been deliberately exaggerated
  • Officials in the United States of America government were directly responsible for the assassination of President John F Kennedy.
  • The United States of America government is withholding proof of the existence of intelligent life from other planets.

Does Labour/UMR think that Climate Change is a global conspiracy and hoax like the Moon Landings?  Or George Bush’s factotums destroyed the WTC?  It’s laughable.  Of those 5 suppositions only one is a global conspiracy, Climate Change.  The rest are delusions of strange people who inhabit the green party and the far left of Labour.  No wonder Labour still thinks that the reason they lost was that the public were hoodwinked.”  [Everyone has an opinion that others would term a “conspiracy theory” sooner or later.  Funny how easy it is to think that only the one you believe in is real and all the others are supported by people wearing tin hats.  Belittling others’ beliefs is a potent form of control.  No single person knows where the rationality line should be drawn in every instance.  For example: the United States House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded Kennedy’s death was the result of a conspiracy.  So there.]

Deceptive bosses tend to make more references to general knowledge (“as you know…”), and refer less to shareholder value (perhaps to minimise the risk of a lawsuit, the authors hypothesize).  They also use fewer “non-extreme positive emotion words”.  That is, instead of describing something as “good”, they call it “fantastic”.  The aim is to “sound more persuasive” while talking horsefeathers.  When they are lying, bosses avoid the word “I”, opting instead for the third person.  They use fewer “hesitation words”, such as “um” and “er”, suggesting that they may have been coached in their deception.  More frequent use of swear words indicates deception.  Public-relations firms will now know to coach the boss to hesitate more, swear less and avoid excessive expressions of positive emotion.  Expect “fantastic” results to become a thing of the past.

Remember to Not Think about It

Remember the day I borrowed your brand new car and dented it?
I thought you’d kill me, but you didn’t.

And remember the time I dragged you to the beach and you said it would rain, and it did?
I thought you’d say, “I told you so.”  But you didn’t.

Do you remember the time I flirted with all the guys to make you jealous, and you were?
I thought you’d leave, but you didn’t.

Do you remember the time I spilled strawberry pie all over your car rug?
I thought you’d hit me, but you didn’t.

And remember the time I forgot to tell you the dance was formal and you showed up in jeans?
I thought you’d drop me, but you didn’t.

Yes, there were lots of things you didn’t do.  But you put up with me, and loved me, and protected me.

There were lots of things I wanted to make up to you when you returned from Iraq.
But you didn’t.

This was said to be anonymous.  When I searched to see if I could find an author, I found a copy of this poem in the Fourth Annual NamVet Archive dated 11 November 1991 — only the place of no return was Viet Nam, not Iraq.  Some things don’t change.  (And it was anonymous even then.)  I did find that it appears in the book Living, Loving and Learning by Leo Buscaglia PhD and he says it was written by a female student, who did not wish to be named.

In 1915, the Canadian physician John McCrea — who perished in World War I — wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields”, which argues that dead soldiers would want others to die, until there is victory.  This poem became a sensation in the UK and the US.  Its relevant stanza:

    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep.

In 1918 Wilfred Owen, a British poet who served in World War I and died in France days before the ceasefire, argued the opposite in the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est”.  This poem became a second public sensation.  Its relevant stanza:

    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old lie: Dulce et Decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

The Latin means, “it is sweet and right to die for your country.”  It is etched on the chapel wall at Sandhurst, the British school for army officers.  [The poem is etched?  The stanza is etched?  Or the merely Latin extract — which is a line from the Roman lyrical poet Horace’s Odes and which would totally change Wilfred Owen’s noble intent — is etched?]

The fallen cannot speak.  It is reasonable to suppose they would think others should keep fighting if there were something to fight for, but oppose others dying so that politicians can avoid being honest or making hard decisions.


Students are taught that the rate of decay of a specific radioactive material is constant, a concept relied upon when carbon-14 is used to date ancient artifacts or when determining the proper dose of radioactivity to treat a cancer patient.  One physics professor looked into the radioactive decay rate of several isotopes as a possible source of random numbers generated without human input — a lump of radioactive cesium-137, for example, may decay at a steady rate overall, but individual atoms within the lump decay in an unpredictable, random pattern.  Thus the timing of the random ticks of a Geiger counter placed near the cesium might be used to generate random numbers.  As researchers looked at published data on specific isotopes, they found disagreement in measured decay rates — odd for supposed physical constants.  Data collected at Long Island’s Brookhaven National Laboratory revealed more surprises: long-term decay rates of silicon-32 and radium-226 showed small seasonal variations — ever-so-slightly faster in winter than in summer.  In December 2006, the sun itself provided a clue: a solar flare sent a stream of particles and radiation toward Earth while a nuclear engineer was measuring the decay rate of manganese-54, a short-lived isotope used in medical diagnostics.  The rate dropped slightly during the flare, starting a day and a half beforehand.  If this apparent relationship between flares and decay rates proves consistent, it could lead to a method of predicting solar flares before they occur, helping to prevent damage to satellites and electric grids and to save the lives of astronauts in space.  The decay-rate aberrations occurred during the middle of the night — meaning whatever was produced by the sun travelled all the way through the earth.  What could the flare send forth that could have that effect?  Probably solar neutrinos.  The swings seem to be in synch with Earth’s elliptical orbit, with decay rates oscillating as Earth comes closer to the sun (where it’s exposed to more neutrinos) and then moving away.  All evidence points toward concluding that the sun "communicates" with radioactive isotopes on Earth.   No one knows how inert neutrinos interact with radioactive materials to change their decay rate though.  But an unknown particle emitted by the sun that has this effect would be even more remarkable.

I received an email referencing the topic of neutrinos from the sun and how (or even if) this might be the source of decay oscillations.  The author has written a short, thought-provoking essay that I found to be a worthwhile read.  (Thank you, Shawn.)

The Sun has a diameter of about 1,392,000 kilometres (865,000 miles).  Its surface temperature is approximately 5,778K (5,505°C or 9,941°F).  In its core, the sun fuses 430 — 600 million tons of hydrogen each second.  Once regarded by astronomers as a small and relatively insignificant star, the sun is now presumed to be brighter than about 85% of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy.  The sun orbits the Milky Way at a distance of approximately 24,000 — 26,000 light years from the galactic centre, completing one clockwise orbit, as viewed from the galactic north pole, in about 225 — 250 million years.  The sun’s velocity with respect to the cosmic microwave background radiation is about 370 kilometres per second in the direction of Leo.  The sun is currently behaving unexpectedly in a number of ways.

  • It is in the midst of an unusual sunspot minimum, lasting far longer and with a higher percentage of spotless days than normal; since May 2008, predictions of an imminent rise in activity have been regularly made and as regularly confuted.
  • It is measurably dimming; its output has dropped 0.02% at visible wavelengths and 6% at EUV wavelengths in comparison with the levels at the last solar minimum.
  • Over the last two decades, the solar wind’s speed has dropped by 3%, its temperature by 13%, and its density by 20%.
  • Its magnetic field is at less than half strength compared to the minimum of 22 years ago. The entire heliosphere, which fills the solar system, has shrunk as a result, resulting in an increase in the level of cosmic radiation striking Earth and its atmosphere.

In a snapshot of earth taken 183 million kilometres away, we appear as nothing more than a glowing white blob.  NASA’s orbiting Messenger spacecraft took the image while searching for vulcanoids — small rock-like objects that scientists believe float in clusters between Mercury and the sun.  The smaller sphere-like object next to the earth is our moon.

Travelling Light

Cornelius Vomanns’s Bufalino is a small camper with minimilist construction equipped to meet the basic needs of one person.  The concept behind the project is to offer absolute flexibility during periods of travel.  The designer says, “The travelling vehicle is always with you like some kind of a base camp, while also being used for moving on in an easygoing and spontaneous way.”  The furnished interior consists of a bed, two seating units, a cooking zone, a basin, storage space, a water tank and a refrigerator.  There’s no toilet, but that doesn’t surprise me as the inclusion of one would bring a host of hassle.  There’s also no shower; however, the rear hatch lifts up (providing a place to hang laundry to dry while stopped) and it seems a velcroed-on vinyl liner hanging to the ground could provide enough space and privacy for a quick rinse when the weather wasn’t too bad.  Rather than having a steering wheel, it steers like a motorcycle.  Having pedals like a bicycle so that cycling could generate power for a battery when stopped, helping power computer, lights, cellphone recharger and refrigerator would be lovely.  I like compactness and privacy — and this has the potential to scratch both those itches.


If you’re planning on cryogenic preservation, try to avoid dying on a sailboat in the middle of the Pacific or while hiking in the Mojave Desert.  It’s best to die at a cryogenics facility.  Keel over in the lobby, get thrown on a gurney, and get wheeled into the cryopreservation operating room to undergo the procedure.  Even better, though, would be to start the cryopreservation before you are dead.  Of course, if the cryopreservation staff were to “help you along,” the law, in most states and most countries, would likely consider that manslaughter or even murder.  However, if assisted suicide were legal, you could choose the day and time of your cryopreservation.  The process itself could bring on legal death, but only after the preservation had begun.  It would be a smooth transition from life to legal death to…?  This would guarantee the absolutely highest cellular integrity possible and give you the best chance of being brought back in the future.  Additionally, future medical technology would likely be able to bring those who have been best preserved back sooner than those who have suffered more damage.  But assisted suicide isn’t legal — is it?  In the USA, assisted suicide is verboten in all but 6 states.  In 4 of those states, the law is ambiguous.  However, in Oregon and Washington, laws specifically permit physician-assisted suicide.  If the goal of cryogenic companies is to save lives, legal suicide should be a viable option.  Why not set up facilities in jurisdictions that permit it?  Better yet, start dialogues with countries that are already promoting medical tourism.  Cryogenic “death tourism” isn’t really all that different.  Of course, you don’t have to call it suicide.  “Early retirement” sounds better.

One of the criteria for donating your body is that it must be whole.  This excludes people who’ve had organs removed for organ transplantation, amputations, or autopsies performed.  Essentially, what you donate depends on the circumstances of your death.  If you’re young (to the anatomists at least), the chances of dying a natural death in the next few years are fairly remote.  If you die in certain circumstances you can donate your organs for organ transplant, but only if your death is not suspicious (so no autopsy) can you go whole to the anatomy department.  That’s because when the main blood vessels have been severed – a necessity in an autopsy – the embalming fluid can’t flow through the body.  As a result, bodies that end up dissected for anatomical study are almost always old (few young people die of natural causes).  Once a body has been accepted, it must be embalmed to preserve tissues.  This involves a cocktail of chemicals, mainly formaldehyde, to “fix” the body’s tissue to stops it from decomposing.  Phenol, used as a mould retardant, and embalming fluid, are gravity-fed through one of the main arteries in the neck or leg.  The body is kept in a fridge for 3 months to allow the formalin to change the proteins in the body so the tissues don’t break down.  A technique used to preserve bodies in rigid form is plastination, involving replacing natural body fluids with solid plastic.  The plastic is rigid, so the corpse can be displayed in any position.  Plastination is practised at several institutions across Australia, but I don’t think it’s used in NZ (yet).  It takes several months to complete plastination of a specimen.  Tissue is prepared in a 10% formaldehyde solution and placed in a solvent such as acetone for a month to remove water.  The solvent is removed and replaced with a liquid polymer in a vacuum chamber and the body is cured by gas in a sealed chamber for a few months.  Oddly, I seem to get frequent requests for information about this topic.  For Kiwis, this page seems to have more useful information than most – especially right at the end.

You Must Remember This…

Memories are reworked continuously so that over time they lose their accuracy.  This is not a fault in memory.  The reason memories are stored is to have a useful resource, not necessarily one with detailed accuracy.  Much biological energy is used to create memories and to re-consolidate them.  Conscious experiences are stored as temporary memories — soon made more permanent as an event or episode.  Over weeks, months, years, decades, memories are continually reworked and re-consolidated, packaged together until individuality is lost as they are updated by newer memories; they are categorised and lose extraneous details.  This is the process of learning from experience.  A “proactive brain” builds analogues by examining what something is like.  If A is like B then they share an analogy which grows as other like things are remembered.  Each memory added brings associations with it, so the associations with each analogy grows.  These are in effect predictions of what else will be found along with the analogy — thus memory is the material of prediction and foresight.  Among memories, predictions and idle imaginings, we have the simulations we need to plan actions.  These become scripts for guiding behaviour and sets of scripts determine mindsets appropriate for particular types of situations.  Imagining the future depends on much of the same neural machinery that is needed for remembering the past.  A critical function of the brain is to use stored aggregated information to imagine, simulate and predict possible future events.  Via the New Shelton wet/dry.

A specific region of the brain appears to be larger in individuals who are good at turning their thoughts inward and reflecting upon their decisions.  This act of introspection or “thinking about thinking” is a key aspect of human consciousness, though scientists have noted plenty of variation in peoples’ abilities to introspect.  The volume of gray matter in the anterior prefrontal cortex of the brain, which lies right behind the eyes, is a strong indicator of a person’s introspective ability.  Furthermore, the structure of white matter connected to this area is also linked to introspection.  It remains unclear, however, how the relationship between introspection and the two different types of brain matter really works.  Certain brain injuries affect an individual’s ability to reflect upon his own thoughts and actions.  More research is needed to explore the mental computations behind introspection and then to link these computations to actual biological processes.  Introspection is on the higher end of the consciousness spectrum.  By measuring this process and relating it to the brain scientists hope to gain insight into the biology of conscious thought.


The next time you feel angry at a friend who has let you down, or grateful toward one whose generosity has surprised you, consider this: you may really be bargaining for better treatment from that person in the future.  According to a controversial new theory, our emotions have evolved as tools to manipulate others into cooperating with us.  Until now, most psychologists have viewed anger as a way to signal displeasure when another person does you harm.  Similarly, gratitude has been seen as a signal of pleasure when someone does you a favour.  In both cases, emotions are seen as short-term reactions to an immediate benefit or cost.  But anger has as much to do with cooperation as with conflict and emotions are used to coerce others into cooperating in the long term.  Anger and gratitude — and perhaps other emotions, too — may be tools for turning up a partner’s mental cooperation control dial.  You get angry not when someone hurts you, but when the action betrays a setting of his/her cooperation dial that is lower than you expect.  Your anger is both a threat to turn down your own dial and an inducement to another to turn his up.  You show gratitude not when someone benefits you, but when that person’s dial is set higher than you expect, and this signals that you plan to turn yours up in response.

65% of 3-year-old children are spanked at least once monthly by their parents.  The odds of using physical punishment doubles in households where parents use aggression against each other.  Maternal stress significantly increases the odds of using physical punishment.  This is not surprising since physical punishment is more likely to be used by angry parents.  Maternal depression significantly increases the odds of using physical punishment, but maternal education has no effect.  However, when the father has a college degree, both the father and the mother are significantly less likely to use physical punishment.  Research on physical punishment is clear: it’s unnecessary and associated with a long list of negative consequences.  For example, although proponents of spanking argue that if you don’t spank, the child will not learn to behave properly, research actually suggests the opposite.  “Spanking” and “corporal punishment” are euphemisms to hide reality: when a parent spanks a child, it is a physical assault.  We oppose other forms of interpersonal violence — in Western societies we oppose marital violence because there is no excuse to justify a husband hitting his wife.  A husband can’t argue that he hit his wife because she was “misbehaving” or that it was “just one hit” or that he used “an open hand” or that the hit “didn’t leave any marks.”  Under all circumstances, we oppose it.  Yet our culture accepts the premise that “it’s a parent’s right” to hit his/her child.  We allow the use of violence against young children under the excuse that such aggression is culturally accepted or even necessary to teach the child a lesson.  What lesson?  That violence achieves goals?  That it is acceptable to hit people when they don’t do what we want?  That hitting those who can’t defend themselves is okay as long as you’re teaching them a lesson?  Children are not possessions!  Via the New Shelton wet/dry.

When You’re Unconscious and You Know It, Clap Your Hands…

Ray Kurzweil as quoted by P Z Myers: Creating a robotic brain to “download your consciousness” into or the “I’ll make a clone version of myself with all my memories” sci-fi-fiction-type immortality ideas are false immortalities.  It’s at best (assuming a completely successful procedure) a process of ending your consciousness so that a puppet version of you can emulate your life possibly for all eternity.  Great, but what does that do for real you?  Real you is just as dead and gone — unable to be a part of and appreciate what your puppet does in your absence.  I’d love to extend lifespans, I’d love to live forever if that were possible, but as long as we’re talking fantasies, asking for the power to fart sparkly flying unicorns seems less stupid than asking for a robot facsimile to live forever on your behalf.  I mean, if you’re going to be all cult about this, pick something that wouldn’t be completely contrary to your intended desire if you should get it.

Brain Metrics: Dr Giulio Tononi wants to build a “consciousness metre” that doctors can use to measure consciousness as easily as they measure blood pressure and body temperature.  Dr Tononi’s obsession with consciousness started in his teens.  He was initially interested in ethics, but decided that questions of personal responsibility depend on our consciousness of our own actions.  So he concluded that he should figure out consciousness first.  “I’ve been stuck with this thing for most of my life.”  Eventually he decided to study consciousness by becoming a psychiatrist.  An early encounter with a patient in a vegetative state convinced him that understanding consciousness was not just a matter of philosophy.  “There are very practical concepts involved.  Are these patients feeling pain or not?  Looking at science basically tells you nothing.” Dr Tononi began to think of consciousness in a different way — as a particularly rich form of integrated information.  Networks gain the highest integrated information possible if their parts are organised into separate clusters, which are then joined.  A fragmented brain (for example, one with Alzheimers or one having an epilectic seizure) loses some of its integrated information and thus some of its consciousness.


According to Stuart Hammeroff, professor of anesthesiology and psychology and director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona, the term Singularity is meant to mark the moment when machines become conscious.  Hameroff describes this Singularity in terms of a belief that Moore’s Law will continue long enough for a computer to match the computational capacity of the human brain (commonly estimated at around 10 16 computations per second).  When this threshold is reached, human brain function, including consciousness, could occur in computers.  But Hammeroff believes current dogma in brain sciences seriously underestimates the complexity of the neuron.  Instead of thinking of neurons, synapses, firings and networks as being analogous to electronic switches, states and circuits in classical computers, he champions the idea that microtubules within the neuron perform quantum computations – that consciousness itself is a kind of quantum phenomenon.  If this is true, no classical computer can ever be conscious and Singularity is a bogus idea.  In the face of truly gargantuan amounts of data (such as the 350 terabytes of data the Large Hadron Collider will produce each week or the 1 petabyte of data processed by Google’s servers every 72 minutes) the hypothesize-model-test approach to science breaks down.  The solution?  Let statistical algorithms find patterns where science can’t.  Statistical tools crunch huge amounts of data, offering a whole new way of understanding the world and leads to complex webs of convergent knowledge — better humans, not computers-as-replacements.

Drug companies have not only sponsored the science of a new condition known as female sexual dysfunction, they have helped to construct it in order to build global markets for new drugs.  Drug industry employees have worked with paid key opinion leaders to develop the disease entity; they have run surveys to portray it as widespread; and they help design diagnostic tools to persuade women that sexual “difficulties” deserve a medical label and treatment.  For example, a Pfizer-funded course designed for doctors across the US claimed that up to 63% of women have sexual dysfunction and testosterone and sildenafil (Viagra) may be helpful along with behavioural therapy.  German drug company Boehringer Ingelheim’s “educational” activities “went into overdrive” as the planned 2010 launch of its desire drug, flibanserin, approached.  In June, flibanserin was rejected by advisors to the US Food and Drug Administration and Pfizer’s sildenafil was also pulled after studies showed virtually no difference from placebo.  Although the drugs have so far failed, the edifice of scientific evidence about the condition remains in place, creating the impression that there’s a massive “unmet need” for treatment.  With more experimental drugs in the pipeline, the drug industry shows no signs of abandoning plans to meet this manufactured unmet need.  Perhaps it’s time to reassess the way in which the medical establishment defines common conditions and recommends treatment options.  New panels should take responsibility for defining treatable illness, made up of people without financial ties vesting their interest in the deliberation outcome.

Unusual Religions Edifices

Reykjavik, Iceland

HallgrÃmskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland

St Mary of the Angels
Ticino, Switzerland

Santa Maria degli Angeli, Monte Tamaro, Canton of Ticino, Switzerland

Las Lajas Cathedral
Ipiales, Columbia

Las Lajas Cathedral, Ipiales, Columbia
HallgrÃmskirkja, wider view

Wider View

Santa Maria degli Angeli's incredible view

Santa Maria degli Angeli’s
Incredible Vista

Las Lajas Cathedral, closer view

Las Lajas Cathedral
Closer View

As works of art, they at least aren’t a total waste.

Baha'i Lotus Temple House of Worship, New Delhi aerial view

Baha’i Lotus Temple
God’s View

Baha'i Lotus Temple Aerial view, different angle

House of Worship
Swimming in Faith

Mother Temple of the Indian Subcontinent

Ardishír Rustampúr Bought Them
the Land with His Life’s Savings

Baha’i Lotus Temple House of Worship, New Delhi was inspired by the lotus flower.  This design is composed of 27 free-standing marble-clad “petals” arranged in clusters of 3 to form 9 sides.  Nine doors open onto a central hall capable of holding up to 2,500 people.  Since its inauguration to public worship in December 1986, the Bahá'í House of Worship had by late 2002 attracted more than 50 million visitors, making it one of the most visited buildings in the world.  Its numbers of visitors during those years surpassed those of the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal.  On Hindu holy days, it draws as many as 150,000 people and welcomes 4 million visitors each year (about 13,000 every day or 9 every minute).

Only 8 Houses of Worship have been built around the world (this includes one in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan that has since been destroyed), with a 9th soon to be constructed in Chile.  An essential architectural character of a House of Worship is that it requires a 9-sided (nonagon) circular shape.

Though some may disagree, to me, Joshua Bell (part 1, part 2) gives one of the finest performances of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto I have ever heard (and I’ve heard a few).  Only after I listened to this (and loved it) did I discover that Bell’s instrument is the 300-year-old Stradivarius violin named Gibson ex Huberman, made in 1713 during what is known as Antonio Stradivari’s “Golden Era.”  This violin had been stolen twice from the previous owner, Bronisław Huberman; the last time the thief confessed to the act on his deathbed.  Bell had held and played the violin and its owner at the time jokingly told him that one day the violin could be his.  Shortly thereafter, by chance, Bell came across the violin again and discovered it was about to be sold to a German industrialist, becoming part of a collection.  Bell “was practically in tears”; he sold his current Stradivarius, the Tom Taylor, for slightly more than half the Gibson ex Huberman asking price and was thus able to make the purchase.  (And I’m pleased because I very much think he deserves to own it.)

Short Short Story: On the Bus by William Grewe-Mullins
I ran into myself on the bus today.  One minute he wasn’t there, the next he was.  He didn’t introduce himself, as I immediately recognised me, and of course he remembered that.  I turn out a bit chubbier, and wrinklier with a lot more white hair, but still a lot of red, and still in a ponytail.  He had a mechanical hand.
“Still wearing the ponytail.” I said.
“Shut up.” I replied.
This is going to get confusing, so I’m going to refer to old me as he or him, even though it’s actually me.
“We only have about 5 minutes,” old me said, “So let me do most of the talking.  I came here because I knew you’d be here, because of the bus schedule.  An easy target, as it were.  First off, have that lump on your collarbone looked at.”
As soon as I promised him that I would, in the space between seconds, his mechanical hand turned into a regular fleshy hand.
“Wasn’t it cool to have a mechanical hand?” I asked old me.
“Who had a mechanical hand?” he replied.  (There’s more…)


Armadillo, Leopard, Bat


Blue whales not only have perfect pitch, but they all seem able to time their calls to the same length.  This may help them find each other in the dark depths.  A recording of a blue whale’s "song" (3 meg).  It sounds a bit like ships passing in the night.

Harvestmen are arachnids belonging to the order Opiliones.  The difference between harvestmen and spiders is that in harvestmen the two main body sections (the abdomen with 10 segments and cephalothorax, or prosoma and opisthosoma) are broadly joined, so that they appear to be one oval structure; they also have no venom or silk glands.  The legs continue to twitch after they’re detached.  This is because there are “pacemakers” located in the ends of the first long segment (femur) of their legs.  These pacemakers send signals via the nerves to the muscles to extend the leg then the leg relaxes between signals.  While some harvestman legs will twitch for a minute, other kinds have been recorded to twitch for up to an hour.  The twitching has been hypothesized as a means to keep the attention of a predator while the harvestman escapes.  Most species live for about a year.  I came to love these critters when we lived out in the country in North Carolina.  They would collect in huge numbers under our porchlights at night.  I found I could take one of their detached legs (they seemed to lose them fairly regularly) and use it to “talk” to them.  Brushing one of their front legs with a detached leg would bring several of them over to investigate.  They would stroke the leg with their pedipalps.  They gave me the impression of being blind, or nearly so, though I could find nothing about this online.  Via Tywkiwdki.


And finally, one of the most touching turtle pictures I’ve seen.  Ever.


Scattered clouds over Bass Strait, Australia, take on a surreal appearance when viewed from a tinted aircraft window and a circular polarizer.  Taken in 2007.

I fire two shots and kill Cristabel.  The first bullet strikes her brain, killing her immediately.  The second bullet lodges in her heart: it would have killed her, had she not been already dead because of the first bullet.  I argue that I did no serious harm.  Bearing in mind what the second bullet would have done, the first bullet merely caused Cristabel the loss of one second of life — hardly serious.  And the second bullet, of course, did not kill her.  (Try convincing the judge.) – Peter Cave, This Sentence Is False, 2009  (Via Tywkiwdbi)

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If you’re a pirate, all of your friends have scurvy.  If you’re a tree, all of your friends are end tables.  If you’re a sock, your only friend has gone missing.  Cute and dark, this children’s book for adults explores cartoon characters’ unique grievances and wide-eyed predicaments — All My Friends Are Dead (by Avery Monsen and Jory John) presents a delightful primer for laughing at the inevitable.  Via Amazon.


Keith Richards revealed that Johnny Depp was a frequent visitor to his home for two years before he twigged on to the fact that he was a Hollywood star.  The guitarist feared that the screen superstar was his son’s drug dealer.  “It took me two years before I realised who he was,” Richards said.  “He was just one of my son Marlon’s mates, hanging around the house playing guitar.  I never ask Marlon’s mates who they are because, you know, they may say, 'I’m a dope dealer.’  Then one day he was at dinner and I’m like 'Woah, Scissorhands.’”  Depp credits Richards as the inspiration for his character Jack Sparrow in the Pirates Of The Caribbean films.  The musician even went on to play his father in the 3rd film of the franchise.

At a weekend air show in the skies above San Francisco, a low-level flyover of a United Airlines jumbo jet got mixed reviews.  My thoughts?  Airplanes aren’t toys.  This was silly, noisy, and wasteful.  (I sound like a grinch?)  It has nothing to do with fears of terrorism — though I suppose if there were cars on the bridge, anyone who may not have known about the airshow possibly got a fright.  But they can do what they like — I don’t live there anymore.  Below is a very! brief clip of the event.

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A seat by the window would give a great view.


Necessary Illusions

Friendship has its illusions no less than love.

Cully Dirigent, conductor of the Cosmo Orchestra and Penny Portello, the pianist, enjoy a meal at the Cosmo’s famous Illusions Restaurant
after tonight’s performance.  Could they be flirting with each other?

Cosmo Theatre, opening soon.  Brought to you by Thaumaturgy Studios, Ltd.
We’re located in beautiful downtown Wellington, New Zealand.