A Frail Power Indeed


News and Site Updates Archive 2008/02/29

The media's power is frail.  Without the people's support, it can be shut off with the ease of turning a light switch.

- Corazon Aquino

29 Feb '08 - The Zhaozhou bridge in China spans a 115 foot arch.  Built of formed and interlinked stone, it has been standing and in essentially constant use since the year 610AD.  In its 1,400+ years, the bridge has experienced at least 8 wars, 10 major floods, and numerous earthquakes - the most recent of which was the 7.2 degree Xingtai earthquake in 1966.  Yet, the support structure remains intact and the bridge is still in use.  Only its ornamental railings have been replaced every few hundred years...  In the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway bet $10 that he could write a complete story in just 6 words.  He wrote: "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn."  He won the bet...  Ted Turner owns 425,221 acres of US ranch land.  If this land were all connected in a long straight line a mile deep, it would stretch from New York to San Francisco...  Contrary to most successful films made from books, much of No Country for Old Men's action is taken word for word from Cormac McCarthy's novel and to boot occurs in the same order of events.  The final speech in the film, for instance, can be read on the final page of the book.  In the novel (but not in the movie), the sheriff says of the dope-dealers, "Here a while back in San Antonio they shot and killed a federal judge."  McCarthy set the story in 1980.  In 1979, in San Antonio, Federal Judge John Howland Wood was shot and killed by rifle fire by a Texas free-lance contract killer named Charles Harrelson.  Actor Woody Harrelson (Carson Wells in the movie) is his son.

       For any man who is bald or balding (and that includes more than 1.2 billion people in the world), if you have any problems accepting your changing image, ask the bald guy for good down-to-earth advice...  Are you the real you?  But what is the real you?  Were you you when you were 10 years old?  20?  45?  Were you the real you before you had graduated college?  Were married?  Were a parent?  Were you more real when you were shy before you "came out of your shell" after joining the basketball or debate team?  Are you the real you when you drink coffee to boost your concentration in order to finish that sales report?  Or the real you when you take Viagra to boost your sexual performance?  Turn the question around: are people who choose to use Viagra, cosmetic surgery, hair-colouring, propranolol to overcome stage fright, fakes?  A strong case can be made that people who take advantage modern technologies are seeking to become more authentically who they believe themselves to be.  But demands for authenticity may turn out to be just a way for other people to impose their views of your proper social status on you...  "We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated governments in the civilised world.  No longer a government by free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men." - President Woodrow Wilson

       How to make fireballs that you can hold in your hand as they burn - guaranteed to impress your kids and all their friends...  "My response is that when Creationists talk about God creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things.  But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that’s going to make him blind.  And [I ask them], ‘Are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball?  Because that doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a God who’s full of mercy." - David Attenborough (via Cynical-C)...  A child gets angry and starts to throw something.  A dismissive parent focuses on stopping the behaviour instead of acknowledging the emotion that might have caused the child to throw that object.  The emotion behind the behaviour is not recognised, not seen.  If parents consistently fail to acknowledge and discuss connections between a child's behaviour and emotions, the child won't gain any insight into his/her own thoughts and feelings, nor appreciate other people's emotional states.  This insight is important, because it serves as the basis of self-awareness and empathy and predicts what kind of parent that child will grow up to be...  Match your views against the views of the US presidential candidates...  The legacy of George W Bush: the country he inherited, the country he leaves behind...  Tell me, I forget.  Show me, I remember.  Involve me, I understand. - Ancient Chinese proverb

       A dipperful of seawater contains a hodgepodge of microfauna - a jellyfish relative called a blue button, for example, isn't one organism but many, joined at a gas-filled hub that keeps the colony afloat.  Each tentacle has a specialised role and the blue pigment blocks UV rays...  Gates, NY's Fire Chief Jim Harrington: "I've been in Gates for about 32 years and this is one of the most severe accidents we've ever had on any of the interstate highways we cover here."  One person died and at least 24 were injured following a 36-car accident in whiteout conditions.  An unknown motorist may have prevented it being much worse - he pulled over and signalled (don't know how - headlights? arm-waving?) to southbound drivers to slow down, warning them of the accident ahead.  How unusual was this?  Perhaps it took only one signaller and this man was the first to arrive at the scene, so no one else was needed.  Had he not come along, the next person would have done the signalling instead - or perhaps no one would.  One influence in such bitter weather could be if the signalling was able to be done from the shelter of a vehicle, albeit one with the window down so one could shout.  Or did the man have to get out of his car, carrying some sort of signalling light?  Did he put out highway flares?  Did he risk some out-of-control driver skidding into him?  This information was not given.

         Kimberley-Clark, the famed manufacturer of Kleenex, was named after two of the founding partners.  Had it been named after the other two, it would have been the far less mellifluous sounding Babcock-Shattuck.    In many cities, underground pipelines were installed more than a century ago.  Studies suggest that old, leaky pipes cost some major cities up to 30% of their daily fresh water supply.    Vaseline has countless uses, but researchers were shocked to discover that some people in the Amazon and India cook with it.  Robert Chesebrough was delighted, however, since he ate a spoonful of his invention every day for good health - he lived until the age of 96.  (The preceding facts were taken from the book Bath Room Stuff by Holman Wang...  Researchers examined whether a person who is mimicked would come to like the mimicker more than otherwise and would that lead to a more positive response towards a product endorsed by the mimicker?  Participants who had their posture, body angle, foot movements, and verbal patterns mimicked rated a new sports drink more positively and drank more of it than participants not mimicked.  A separate experiment showed that positive ratings and amount consumed were even higher when the mimicker expressly stated that he or she was invested in the success of the product.  This suggests mimicry has potential to be valuable in interpersonal persuasion, particularly when the motivations and persuasive intent of the mimicker are transparent (in other words, you will be influenced despite your intent to resist)...  Stem-cell banks, telomerase amplifiers, somatic gene therapy - these are potential longevity treatments incubating in laboratories.  The first steps toward "engineered negligible senescence" - immortality lite - should be here by 2025 or so.  By about 2015 there should be a pill available that can extend your life by 20 or so years - so a healthy baby-boomer may, in fact, end up being the first human to reach 150.

       Painted cats: cats should not be merely accoutrements, but my guess is that you take fairly good care of something that cost you thousands of dollars.  Perhaps a silly paint job (okay, some are beautiful) is better for a cat than a life of fighting in a back alley?  The paint job (and hair cut if required) have to be repeated quarterly at a cost of up to $15k.  If you believe your eyes, that is...  William McNeill's Keeping Together in Time is about the historical prevalence and cultural importance of synchronized dance, marching, and other forms of movement.  Such "muscular bonding" was an evolutionary innovation, an "indefinitely expansible basis for social cohesion among any and every group that keeps together in time."  Barbara Ehrenreich's Dancing in the Streets makes the same argument but with more attention to recent history and the concept of communitas or group love.  Most traditional societies had group dance rituals functioning to soften structure and hierarchy and increase trust, love and cohesion.  Westerners have a need for communitas, but our society makes it hard to satisfy it (Jonathan Haidt, middle-of-the-page)...  If it impacts it, society should be as concerned with the homogenization of gender differences as they are with portrayal of women as bathing beauties.  A world where women are taught they can only be self-actualised if they act like men is going backward.  Insisting on making women more masculine is not empowering anyone, it's establishing physical and cultural standards that cannot and should not be attained...  Protecting and Maintaining Your Heterosexual House of Cards (well I thought it was funny - maybe homophobes won't)...  In case you were wondering, in New York City, the name SoHo is short for the blocks South of Houston (pronounced HOW-ston) and north of Canal streets. TriBeCa is derived from the Triangle Below Canal.

       From "High Heels: 4 Inches Closer to Heaven" Heels are not something one simply wears on her feet, but a passion, hobby, personal expression, source of authority, sexual independence, staple of gendered feminine culture, mark of flaunted femininity, psychologically empowering, and joy.  Women choose to wear high heels for many reasons; the key is that they indeed are the ones who proactively choose to endorse the high heel, often at the expense of their own physical comfort.  Reasons for wearing high heels, which are almost exclusively aesthetic, include:

bulletThey change the angle of the foot with respect to the lower leg, which accentuates the appearance of calves.
bulletThey change the wearer's posture, requiring a more upright carriage and altering the gait in what is often considered a seductive fashion.
bulletThey make the wearer appear taller.
bulletThey cause the wearer's legs to look longer
bulletThey make the foot appear smaller.
bulletThey make the wearer's glutial muscles more defined while wearing tight pants.

Reasons for NOT wearing high heels include:

bulletThey can cause foot pain.
bulletThey can create foot deformities, including hammertoes and bunions.
bulletThey can cause an unsteady gait.
bulletThey can shorten the wearer's stride.
bulletThey can render the wearer unable to run.
bulletThe altered forces at the knee caused by walking in high heels may predispose to degenerative changes in the knee joint.

Since their Venetian birth, high heels have been markers of the privileged.  In the 16th century, both men and women of the leisure class wore heeled shoes as high as 30 inches.  In order to walk a servant on each side supported them.  Like the Venetians, Chinese women could hardly be expected to do much but recline in luxury on their ideally-sized 3 inch bound feet.  When looking at high heels and the upper class connotation of today a similar psychology of wealth and status may still be operating, the richer you are, the higher the heels, and the more likely it is that you only have to walk a few short, painful steps from you limo to your destination.  After all, women may "wear" slippers, "put on" sneakers and "slip into" loafers, but they "dress" in high heels.

       On 28 November 1979 a wide-bodied DC10 jet operated by Air New Zealand flew into the lower slopes of the world's southernmost active volcano, the 3,794-metre-high Mt Erebus in Antarctica, instantly killing everyone on board.  Why did it happen?  Not everyone agrees.  What is now forgotten by many is that the Privy Council did not accept the Chippindale Report as being correct and indeed went out of its way to uphold the Mahon Report in exonerating the pilots from blame for the crash...  If the world today were rational economically, then regions such as the Gulf which are food-constrained ought to be investing heavily in agriculture.  And since the US is the world’s biggest agricultural supplier, this implies that the Saudi Arabians should be snapping up farms in Wisconsin - as America secures oil in the most efficient manner by sending teams of Texans to Riyadh.  But in practice numerous investment controls prevent Saudi Arabians from buying Wisconsin farms and Americans owning Saudi oil wells.  And these controls are not being dismantled now.  On the contrary, mutual mistrust is rising.  Hence the fact that Gulf leaders are currently considering desalinating sea water to plant wheat in the desert while the US and Europe are trying to turn corn into fuel.  Such exercises might make sense in domestic political terms; but they are apt to be fiendishly expensive.  Thus the upshot of this misallocation - and even more inflation...  In the 20th century, more people died prematurely from smoking (100 million) than those who perished under the ruthless regimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.  Today, tobacco is seen as responsible for more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.

       But-Did-the-Stockholders-Approve Department: To commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Mattel's tiny cars called Hot Wheels®, the company has built a special version studded with 2,700 diamonds.  Since the car is said to cost $140k, that means each diamond cost about $52 - less if you add in the white gold frame and the ruby brake lights.  Or - you could pay US$615k for a watch which strikes the hour, quarter-hour and minutes-since-last-quarter-hour when it's queried.  It takes the largest number of strikes - 32 in total - to indicate the time at 12:59.  That includes 12 low-pitched strikes, 3 high-low double strikes, and 14 high strikes...  There are a number of plausible candidates for the next bubble, but only a few meet all criteria.  Health care must expand to meet the needs of ageing baby boomers, but there is as yet no enabling government legislation to make way for a health-care bubble; the same holds true of the pharmaceutical industry, which could hyperinflate only if the Food and Drug Administration was gutted of its power.  A second technology boom - under the rubric "Web 2.0" - is based on improvements to existing technology rather than any new discovery.  The capital-intensive biotechnology industry will not inflate, as it requires too much specialised intelligence.  There is one industry that fits the bill: alternative energy, the development of more energy-efficient products, along with viable alternatives to oil, including wind, solar, and geothermal power, along with the use of nuclear energy to produce sustainable oil substitutes, such as liquefied hydrogen from water.  Under hyperinflation, infrastructure upgrades accelerate, with plenty of opportunity for big government contractors fleeing the declining market in Iraq.  When the bubble finally bursts, we will be left to mop up after yet another devastated industry.

       Hitler is known to have owned a copy of Snow White, the classic animated adaptation of a German fairy tale, and to have viewed it in his private cinema.  Apparently, he also painted the cartoon figures as well, including the one at left...  In the early 1970s Merton and Scholes were responsible (with their colleague, the late Fischer Black) for the single most important breakthrough in the modern mathematical theory of finance.  This concerned the apparently esoteric problem of the pricing of options - that is, contracts that give one the right (with no obligation) to purchase (call) or sell (put) an asset such as a block of shares at a given price on a given future date or during a given period.  Black, Scholes and Merton’s solution to the problem was far-reaching, but their basic idea was simple and elegant.  They showed how to construct a "replicating portfolio": a continuously adjusted set of investments in both the underlying asset and government bonds or cash that would have exactly the same pattern of returns as an option.  In an efficient market, the price of the option has to equal the cost of the replicating portfolio.  If those prices diverge, there is risk-free profit to be made by buying the cheaper and selling the dearer of the two, and as arbitrageurs (market participants who exploit discrepancies between the prices of equivalent assets) do this, their purchases raise the cheaper price and their sales lower the more expensive one.  Thus arbitrage eliminates any divergence between the price of the option and the cost of the replicating portfolio...  Scientists are reporting evidence that contrary to our current beliefs about what is possible, intact double-stranded DNA has the ability to recognise similarities in other DNA strands from a distance.  Somehow they are able to identify one another, and the tiny bits of genetic material tend to congregate with similar DNA.  The recognition of similar sequences in DNA’s chemical subunits, occurs in a way not understood by science.  There is no known reason why the DNA is able to combine the way it does, and from a current theoretical standpoint this feat should be chemically impossible.

       While this fishtank is unusual - and probably provides the fish inhabitants with a more interesting habitat - I can't help but wonder how one manages to clean it...  "Within the next hundred years ... nationhood as we know it will be obsolete; all states will recognise a single, global authority ... All countries are basically social arrangements, accommodations to changing circumstances.  No matter how permanent and even sacred they may seem at any one time, in fact they are all artificial and temporary." - US Senator Strobe Talbott, Time 1992.  "...cultlike entities charged with emotion" - Vaclav Havel on countries, New York Review of Books...  "11-year-olds are greeted at the doors with metal detectors and officers with wands.  Highlighters, glue sticks and sharpies are confiscated because they are not allowed on the premises.  We tell them to wait in lines as we escort them from locked rooms to locked bathrooms.  Inside, a good classroom is a controlled classroom.  We are not teaching them about their lives or their communities because it is not in the curriculum.  Instruction is driven by standardised testing.  We are teaching testing, not knowledge.  There is absolutely no respect for these students.  These middle schools are like prisons where the spirits of our children are slowly crushed, and I have been an unwilling participant in the destruction of young lives.  Simply being witness and not speaking out daily makes me feel the soulful guilt of a thief," concluded a veteran Chicago-area teacher.  The roughly 50% of urban children who do reach graduation have demonstrated an ability to sedately sit at a desk for 6 - 7 hours a day and dutifully perform often tedious and regimented assignments.  These "moulded" graduates are perfect for the menial labour force...  The desire to alter one’s personality to appropriately fit a given situation or social climate prevents high self-monitors from presenting their true selves during intimate interactions with their romantic partners.  High self-monitors are very likeable and successful people, however, it appears they’re just not deep.  Their propensity to self-censor prompts them to avoid face-threatening interactions that more honest self-disclosures potentially provide.  The result: the partners of high self-monitors may be completely in the dark about the extent of their high self-monitoring partner’s degree of commitment and regard.

We need to decide that we will not go to war, whatever reason is conjured up by the politicians or the media,
because war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children.

- Howard Zinn

For other updates click "Back" (for newer) or "Next" (for older) below

Back Home Up Next