Into the Abyss of Endless Time
News and Site Updates Archive 2009/11/15
Only the dead have seen the end of war.
- George Santayana
15 Nov '09 - Please note that this site is experiencing some hosting difficulties which should be corrected before the next posting by the end of November. Sorry - and thanks for your patience...
Defense Spending: getting priorities straight! What
would happen if for just one year the US spent as much on infrastructure investments
In 1946-48, the United States advanced for the first time the view that seizing individuals, holding them for prolonged periods without recourse to law, and subjecting them to torture or humiliating
treatment was a particularly serious crime – a crime against humanity. US prosecutors, many of them from the Justice Department, brought charges against government officials who had done this, and
secured convictions. Europeans were at first sceptical of these American views, but over time they came to embrace and support them. Today, the view is firmly held around the world that
"disappearings" are a crime against humanity and thus not subject to statutes of limitation or capable of being ignored. The CIA just ran into this wall, and this should be a lesson for the Obama
Administration: it shows what can happen when the US fails to abide by the values it espouses.
No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
- James Madison, 20 April 1795
A recent US appellate court decision (in Arar versus Ashcroft) reflects vividly what the country has become. Maher Arar is a
citizen of both Canada and Syria. A telecommunications engineer and graduate of Montreal's McGill University, he's lived in Canada since he was 17. In 2002, he returned home from vacation; on a
stopover at JFK Airport, he was detained by US officials, accused of being a terrorist, held 2 weeks incommunicado without access to counsel, abusively interrogated, then rendered - despite pleas that he might
be tortured - to Syria, where he was interrogated and was tortured - repeatedly. He remained in Syria 10 months under brutal and inhumane conditions. In January 2007 the Canadian Prime Minister
publicly apologised to Arar for the role Canada played in these events and paid him $9 million in compensation. That was preceded by a full investigation by Canadian authorities and public disclosure of
their detailed report concluding "categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constituted any threat to the security of Canada." By
stark and revealing contrast, the US government admitted no wrongdoing nor spoke publicly, insisting that courts are barred from examining the conduct of government officials because of "state secrets" - courts
can't interfere in actions of the Executive where national security is involved. What does this say about how democratic, accountable, and open the US is? By a vote of 7 - 4 the court dismissed
Arar's case in entirety, holding that even if the government violated his constitutional rights and also statutes banning participation in torture, he still has no right to sue for what was done because
"providing a damages remedy against senior officials who implement an extraordinary rendition policy would enmesh the courts ineluctably in an assessment of the validity of the rationale of that
policy ... directly affect[ing] significant diplomatic and national security concerns." In other words, the government can do anything as long as it's done in a national security context, even violate
laws and involve themselves in torture. Courts should honour these actions by refusing to scrutinise them. This is how the character of a country fundamentally degrades when in a state of permanent
war - so continuous are inhumane acts of government leaders that citizens lose capacity for moral outrage... A decade ago, the town of New London, Connecticut claimed Susette Kelo’s house by right of eminent
domain. The plan was to demolish the residential neighbourhood so that Pfizer could built a massive research and development plant on adjacent land. Pfizer got the land for next to
nothing. Five Supreme Court justices upheld the taking, ruling that although the primary beneficiary was a corporation, it met the constitutional requirement of "public use." Now Pfizer
has announced it is shutting down the plant. Weeds, glass, bricks, pipe and shingle splinters have replaced the knot of aging homes. The promised new jobs and tax revenues vanished when the housing
bubble popped and brought on a recession.
<—The world is queer, because it is known only through representations that are fragmentary and in themselves queer. Their meanings are always relative, a matter of relationships and constructions. In contradiction to its title, this series (photographed in 1973 by Duane Michaels) seems to say that things themselves are not queer, rather what is queer is the certainty by which we label things normal and abnormal, decent and obscene. (I think the balance of that article isn't worth reading, but you can go there if you want.) Via The New Shelton wet/dry.
100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do, Part 1 and Part 2. Some of the ones I particularly like include:
Selling candy didn't raise much money last year, so a North Carolina middle school tried selling grades. Rosewood Middle School price list:
A $20 donation buys 10-point credits to be used on two tests of the student's choice.
A $30 donation buys the test points and admission to a 5th-period dance.
A $60 donation buys students test points, the dance invitation, and a "special 30-minute lunch period with pizza, drink and the choice to invite one friend to join them."
Photo ops with Rosewood principal Susie Shepherd, the vice principal, and a home room teacher go for $75. The photos will be posted on a school bulletin board and on the school's website.
The principal said a parent advisory council came up with the idea and she endorsed it. She said the council was looking for a new way to raise money. "Last year they did chocolates, and it didn't generate anything." State education officials, who typically shy from talking about grading at individual schools, were not pleased.
Seven common cultural faux pas that the traveller would do well to avoid include the following:
A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and
prejudices. The correct use of this term requires elements of
The hormone oxytocin, the "love hormone", affects behaviours such as trust, empathy and generosity. Previous studies have shown that oxytocin has a positive effect on positive feelings: it is released naturally during childbirth and when engaging in sexual relations. Participants in an experiment who inhaled a synthetic version displayed higher levels of altruistic feelings and the hormone plays an important role in the formation of relationships between people. However, the hormone is now known to also be related to higher levels of aggression. Of 56 participants, ½ inhaled synthetic oxytocin in the first session and were given a placebo (a dummy drug) in the second session; the others were given a placebo in the first session and oxytocin in the second. Then each participant was asked to play a game of luck along with another competitor, who was – without their knowledge – a computer. Each participant chose one of 3 doors and was awarded the sum of money hidden behind it - sometimes the participant gained less money than the other player, sometimes more. Those participants who inhaled oxytocin displayed higher levels of envy when the opponent won more money and gloated when they were ahead. As soon as the game was over, no differences between the participants were evident, indicating that the negative feelings were empowered by the game itself. Oxcytocin was being considered for use in various disorders such as autism - but the hormone's undesirable effects on behaviour are now causing a rethink.
John Wearden, experimental psychologist, subjects people to 10 seconds of fast clicks (5 per second), then asks them to estimate the duration of a burst of light or sound. They believe that a 1-second stimulus lasts 10% longer than if they hear silence or white noise beforehand. It seems their central pacemakers accelerate. Wearden's former student, Luke Jones, tested the subjects' rate of mental processing - after exposing them to clicks, he measured how quickly they accomplished 3 tasks: basic arithmetic, memorising words, hitting a specific key on a computer keyboard. Results show clicks accelerate subjects' performance in all 3 tasks by 10 - 20% - as if the drumbeat of the brain's internal slave galley speeds up, compelling each neuron to row faster. White noise has no effect. "Information processing in the brain runs in subjective time," says Wearden. "Speed up people's subjective time and they have more time to process things."
In one experiment, volunteers learned to play a video game in which they steered a plane around obstacles. Once people became used to the game, researchers modified it to insert a .2-second delay in the plane's response to computer controls. After the modification, players' performance initially worsened but brains learned to compensate to the extent that they actually perceived the movement of the mouse and the aircraft to be simultaneous. But the strangeness occurred then experimenters removed the delay and set the timing back to normal. Suddenly, players perceived the plane as moving before they consciously steered it - uncannily similar to how schizophrenics describe being controlled by another being. That gets to a core issue in schizophrenia - the question of whether you are in control of your own body. The ability to attribute actions to oneself versus others, to perceive one's own thoughts against thoughts generated from external sources, requires a tight coupling in time within the brain.
Robert Parker is a wine taster. How good is he? How good are ANY of them? He blind tasted a 2005 Bordeaux, which he declared was the best vintage since 1982. He gave the wines at his 2005 tasting an exact point score. He did a blind retasting of these same wines in 2007. Did they score the same? What do YOU think? The answers were humbling. (In Parker's defence, these wines were still very young and tannic.) He confused merlot-based Bordeaux with cabernet-heavy blends; his favourite wine of the 2005 tasting turned out to be the lowest rated in his 2007 tasting. Frederick Brochet has shown that wine experts can be tricked by red food colouring into confusing red and white wines. Our brain has been designed to believe itself, wired so that our prejudices feel like facts. Our expectations of what the wine will taste like can be much more powerful in determining how the wine tastes than the actual physical qualities of the wine itself.
Earth is quite an electrical planet! About 44,000 thunderstorms occur on it each day with about 2,000 in progress at any moment. The number of lightning discharges on Earth per second is about 100. It is unpleasant at best, dangerous at worst, to fly aircraft through thunderstorms as lightning, hail, severe turbulence, vigorous up draughts and strong downdraughts all occur inside them. An aircraft can be wrecked by flying from a powerful up draught into an adjoining downdraught. Even the biggest aircraft can be flung about the sky by the violent winds of vigorous cumulonimbus clouds. Pilots therefore try to fly around such clouds if they can. As the clouds are typically only 10 - 12 kilometres across, this is normally possible. Inside cumulonimbus clouds, up currents tend to be concentrated in "chimneys", with compensating currents of sinking dry air close by. Rain falls into the dry air, where it evaporates, thereby cooling the dry air, making it heavier. These downdraughts may become downbursts, blasts of cold air which are travelling with a speed of 40 metres per second or more when they reach the ground. The most severe types, called microbursts, can be very dangerous. People on aeroplanes are not the only ones endangered by microbursts. The strong, dry, gusty winds of downbursts can quickly turn a minor forest fire into an inferno. Microbursts can also overturn large boats. On 7 July 1984, for example, one overturned an excursion boat 27 metres long on the Tennessee River near Huntsville, Alabama, USA, killing 11 of the 18 aboard.
The body harbours an estimated 100 trillion individual microbes inside and out. Together, they're called the human microbiome. Communities of bacteria living in one person’s distinct nooks and crannies differ from each other. While some places (such as the navel, forehead and armpits) are colonised with few kinds of bacteria, other places (including the back of the knee, palm and forearm) have many different types all living together. Microbiomes are also highly personalised. Gut, hair, nostrils, ear canals and skin bacteria are very different from person to person. Also, forearm bacteria doesn’t thrive after a move to the forehead but can live, for example, on the tongue. When someone gives you a wet kiss, they're really doing a lot of microbiome sharing.
Photos from the parade celebrating the
60th anniversary of Mao's victory over Chiang (after over 4 months of laborious dawn to dusk practicing,
This 65-metre-wide hole in the lunar surface extends at least 80 metres down and could be an opening into a larger lunar
cave perhaps as much as 370 metres across. This discovery strengthens evidence for subsurface, lava-carved channels that could shield future human colonists from space radiation and other
hazards... Strange light in the night sky over Norway: it was big as a full moon, and became larger and larger as a kind of
explosion. It lasted 3 - 4 minutes and behaved like neither a comet nor a meteor. More photos here (via Naacal). (I received an email from Stefan with
the following information: "Being able to read the site about the strange lights over Norway I can report that they've figured out what it was. It was a Russian rocket test."
Thanks!)... Indoor air is up to 12 times more
polluted than outdoor air in some areas, with air quality affected by chemicals from paints, varnishes, adhesives, furnishings, clothing, solvents, building materials and even tap water.
These produce volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that have been shown to cause illnesses in people exposed to these compounds in indoor spaces.
Horticulturists tested a number of ornamental indoor plants for their
ability to remove harmful VOCs from indoor air. Of the species tested, purple waffle plant (Hemigraphis alternata) (also known as metal leaf), English ivy (Hedera helix), waxy leaved
plant (Hoya carnosa) (also called wax vine or wax plant), asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus) and the purple heart plant (Tradescantia pallida) (formerly called Setcreasea pallida
and also called purple heart wandering Jew and occasionally Moses in the basket although this usually refers to a different species) were best.
I ran across this photo which I thought was striking (no, at this point I knew nothing about the movie - and still don't except that there IS one and this picture advertises
Radio City Music Hall is the largest indoor theatre in the
world. Its marquee is a full city-block long; its auditorium measures 160 feet from back to stage and the ceiling reaches a height of 84 feet. The walls and ceiling are formed by a series of
sweeping arches that define a splendid and immense curving space. Choral staircases rise up the sides toward the back wall. Actors can enter there to bring live action right into the
house. There are no columns to obstruct views. Three shallow mezzanines provide comfortable seating without looming over the rear orchestra section below. The result is that every seat in
Radio City Music Hall is a good seat. The Great Stage is framed by a huge proscenium arch that measures 60 feet high and 100 feet wide. The stage is considered by technical experts to be the most
perfectly equipped in the world. It is comprised of 3 sections mounted on hydraulic-powered elevators. They make it possible to create dynamic sets and achieve spectacular effects in
staging. A 4th elevator raises and lowers the entire orchestra. Within the perimeter of the elevators is a turntable that can be used for quick scene changes and special stage effects. The
shimmering gold stage curtain is the largest in the world. For more than 65 years audiences have thrilled to the sound of the "Mighty Wurlitzer" organ, which was built especially for the
theatre. Its pipes, which range in size from a few inches to 32 feet, are housed in 11 separate rooms. The Hall contains more than 25,000 lights and features 4-colour stage lighting. And
what's a show without special effects? Original mechanisms still in use today make it possible to send up fountains of water and bring down torrents of rain. Fog and clouds are created by a
mechanical system that draws steam directly from a Con Edison generating plant nearby... Swimmers in an ironman triathlon - an odd image by Wayne Levin.
Guy Fawkes Day: We walked down to the Wellington Harbour to see the fireworks because we'd heard that there were several new types that had not been seen
Making Better Career Decisions (MBCD) was developed by collaboration between
research teams at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Oregon. It incorporates psychological principles, utilises research used to develop the Career Information System (CIS) at the
University of Oregon, and incorporates economics, sociology and psychology to create a useful occupational database. This sounds like hype - and it might be - except of the 4 people (myself included) who
used it, the results achieved on very little input seem to be shockingly close to the mark. (I should've been an architect - a conclusion I had reached only the week before, after years of introspection
and MBCD could've told me that (and did) after less than 5 minutes of probing. Try it if you're deliberating among a number of careers or educational alternatives - you may find that some of them aren't
compatible with your preferences, whereas others you have not considered beforehand may suit them. You may find MBCD useless for you - or not... Every so often in history, something profound
happens that changes warfare forever. Next year, for the first time, the US Pentagon will buy more unmanned aircraft than
manned, proof that war will be ever more abstract, distant, and ruthlessly efficient. All current Air Force Predator and Reaper pilots started off in real cockpits flying fighters, bombers, tankers,
and cargo planes. The Army and Marines, which fly hundreds of small unmanned aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan, rely on enlisted personnel who've never flown traditional aircraft - but those planes are
unarmed and are used only for surveillance. Put missiles in the mix and concern grows. The Air Force has used UAV pilots who understand the mechanics and physics of flight as the new technology
has developed - many have flown in combat over Iraq and Afghanistan. But fierce demand for UAVs is draining the pool of available pilots and what's the sense in spending a couple million dollars training
pilots in planes they might never physically be needed to fly? Enter the Betas, the future armchair fighter jocks who grew up with the very technology of simulated flight. Those who dream of being
real fighter pilots might never get the chance as the skies unman - but America's pool of gamers, texters, and TV watchers is certainly vast and deep - and their day may be at hand.
You are being engineered by the government, to look like the Ideal
Manhattanite - slim, sleek, cool as glass.
Aaagh! I've been spotted!... One of life's little hurdles... Money is a commodity used as
a medium of exchange. Like all commodities, it has an existing stock, it faces demands by people to buy and hold it. Like all commodities, its "price" in terms of other goods is determined by
the interaction of its total supply, or stock, and the total demand by people to buy and hold it. People "buy" money by selling their goods and services for it, just as they "sell" money when they buy
goods and services. Money is not an abstract unit of account. It is not a useless token only good for exchanging. It is not a "claim on society". It is not a guarantee of a fixed price
level. It is simply a commodity. But money differs from other commodities in one essential fact: when the supply of any other good increases, this increase confers a social benefit; it is a matter
for general rejoicing. More consumer goods mean a higher standard of living for the public; more capital goods mean sustained and increased living standards in the future. [Yet] an increase in
money supply, unlike other goods, [does not] confer a social benefit. The public at large is not made richer. Whereas new consumer or capital goods add to standards of living, new money only raises
prices — that is, it dilutes its own purchasing power. The reason for this puzzle is that money is only useful for its exchange value. [Thus] we come to the startling truth that it doesn’t matter
what the supply of money is. Any supply will do as well as any other supply. The free market will simply adjust by changing the purchasing power, or effectiveness of the gold-unit
[monetary-unit]. (Via Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis.)
I once wanted to become an atheist, but I gave up — they have no holidays.
- Henry Youngman
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