Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The spread of purity it lies motionless in the horizon's edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh and shore mud

On Monday, October 4th, a large reservoir filled with toxic red sludge in western Hungary ruptured, releasing approximately 700,000 cubic meters (185 million gallons) of stinking caustic mud, which killed many animals, at least four people, and injured over 120 - many with chemical burns. The 12-foot-high flood of sludge inundated several towns, sweeping cars off the road as it flowed into the nearby Marcal River. Emergency workers rushed to pour 1,000 tons of plaster into the Marcal River in an attempt to bind the sludge and keep it from flowing on to the Danube some 45 miles away. The red sludge in the reservoir is a byproduct of refining bauxite into alumina, which took place at an alumina plant run by the Hungarian Alumina Production and Trading Company. A criminal probe has just been opened by Hungarian authorities.

The Big Picture | A Flood of Toxic Sludge

Monday, October 04, 2010

"Once the game is over, the King and the Pawn go back in the same box." - Italian Proverb

Welch began by stating that "all of economics results from inequality. Without inequality of priorities and capabilities, there would be no trade, no specialization, and no surpluses produced by cooperation." He invited his audience to consider a world in which skill, effort, and sheer chance played no role whatsoever in what you got paid. The only decision that would affect your wage level would be when to leave school. "After that, the clock ticks, and wages follow the experience path. Nothing else matters. Can you imagine a more horrible, a more deadening existence?"
But something close to the dystopia Welch envisioned already exists for those toiling in the economy's lower tiers. Welch should have a chat with his office receptionist. Or he could read Nickel and Dimed, or the 2010 book Catching Out by Dick J. Reavis, a contributing editor at Texas Monthly who went undercover as a day laborer. Waitresses, construction workers, dental assistants, call-center operators—people in these jobs are essentially replaceable, and usually have bosses who don't distinguish between individual initiative and insubordination. Even experience is of limited value, because it's often accompanied by diminishing physical vigor.
Welch said that he believed inequality was destructive only when "the low-wage citizenry views society as unfair, when it views effort as not worthwhile, when upward mobility is impossible or so unlikely that its pursuit is not worthwhile." Colleen's comment would appear to suggest that the first of these conditions has not been met. But that's only because I omitted what she went on to say: "But what I would like is to be able to take a day off now and then … if I had to … and still be able to buy groceries the next day." Colleen may not begrudge the rich the material goods they've acquired through skill, effort, and sheer chance, but that doesn't mean she thinks her own labors secure her an adequate level of economic security. Clearly, they don't.

Slate | Why We Can't Ignore Growing Income Inequality

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere. - G.K. Chesterton

These drawings were from prisoners' art classes, the soldier explained. Prisoners were allowed to take art classes as a reward for good behavior. Some of the drawings and paintings were quite impressive. The prisoners had a lot of time to practice, he admitted.
Until recently, taking photos of these drawings was forbidden. But in the weeks before a planeload of journalists arrived in Gitmo to cover the trial of Omar Khadr, the 23-year-old prisoner whose case is being heard by a tribunal court after nearly eight years in detention, that rule changed. The drawings were deemed safe for public consumption.

Slate | Still Life With Enemy Combatant

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them." - Epictetus

Long Beach resident and 10-year Mariners member, Amelia Davies, said she found the seminar extremely helpful because she is dealing with a daughter who is dating a Muslim man.

"I have to admit I have not taken it well," said Davies, 61. "But now I'm learning about how to talk to Muslims and how to welcome them into our community. I even got materials that I can send to my daughter so she can tell her boyfriend about Jesus and Christianity."
"Now, I understand that they don't know anything else, because they haven't been exposed to any other ideas," she said. "They have never seen the New Testament. They live in a closed community. I now understand that I need to have a gentler approach because now I know where they are coming from."

OC Register | Seminar aims to dispel fear of Muslims

Saturday, May 29, 2010

As Americans, it is our birthright that all people are created equal and deserve the same rights, privileges, and opportunities. Since our earliest days of independence, our Nation has striven to fulfill that promise. An important chapter in our great, unfinished story is the movement for fairness and equality on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. This month, as we recognize the immeasurable contributions of LGBT Americans, we renew our commitment to the struggle for equal rights for LGBT Americans and to ending prejudice and injustice wherever it exists.

LGBT Americans have enriched and strengthened the fabric of our national life. From business leaders and professors to athletes and first responders, LGBT individuals have achieved success and prominence in every discipline. They are our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, and our friends and neighbors. Across my Administration, openly LGBT employees are serving at every level. Thanks to those who came before us the brave men and women who marched, stood up to injustice, and brought change through acts of compassion or defiance we have made enormous progress and continue to strive for a more perfect union.

Presidential Proclamation--Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Wean ourselves of that spiritual narcissism

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love." - Carl Sagan

The only aspect of outer space that strikes us with any sense of familiarity is our cosmic family unit, the solar system. "Our" solar system. We learn the order of the planets in grammar school, through various absurd mnemonics, and all know bits and pieces of scientific lore about each: Mercury oppressively small, Mars close, dusty and red, Saturn with its elegant rings, and Jupiter a giant of swirling red clouds. Some of us have affinities and distastes -- I, for example, find Venus horrible. We know "our" planets, see them as our fellows, as odd-coupled roommates in the neighborhood. We feel, au fond, territorial.

Which is why, perhaps, any changes in the established order can irk us fantastically. Take Pluto, for example. Long a beloved member of the solar system, its 2006 demotion from planet to dwarf planet ignited ire among thousands, who saw the move as needlessly draconian, as well as an affront to the harmony of our solar system. 54 members of the California state assembly proposed a resolution condemning the International Astronomical Union for "scientific heresy," and for inciting "psychological harm to some Californians who question their place in the universe." Of course, Pluto continued to exist, unconcerned.

UNIVERSE | There Goes the Solar System
Image from Sharp Bokeh.

actually why don't you just stay home and watch the history channel

Reporting from San Francisco - The University of California on Tuesday began considering dramatic changes in the way it educates its students and raises revenue, including whether to offer three-year bachelor's degrees and enroll more out-of-state undergraduates.

UC's Commission on the Future heard its first set of proposals aimed at making the 10-campus system more efficient while preserving its academic strengths. Some ideas are sure to be controversial as they are discussed over the next few months, officials said.

"Some recommendations you may like a lot. Some you may think are terrible. But that's OK. They are important ideas to put forward," UC Regents Chairman Russell S. Gould said at the commission's meeting at UC San Francisco.

Proposals from the commission's five subcommittees include: encouraging some students to complete bachelor's degrees in three years through extra summer sessions and fewer requirements; doubling the number of out-of-state students, who now make up 5% of undergraduates and pay significantly higher fees; charging more for the most popular campuses, including UC Berkeley and UCLA; and expanding online course offerings.

LA Times | UC panel proposes three-year bachelor's degrees, other big changes

Problem: Fees are too high at the University of California for all students to afford an education there. Executive bonuses and construction projects continue to rise, as workers and staff are laid off.
Solution: Encourage students to take on a heavier course load and rush through school, ditch the classrooms and put classes online, reject more Californian students from the UC applicant pool.

Something's not right here.

wrapped up in books

This will make for much more overburdened computers and much less cluttered apartments. Bric-a-brac is generally unfashionable now. Designers see apartments full of amusing memorabilia – the matchboxes from Berlin, the Soweto tin car, all the stuff that children love – as dust-gathering and space-consuming. We no longer respect the Cabinet of Wonders as a guiding principle of decoration.

So we lose forever the pleasure known to humanity for 500 years of taking a stroll up and down the aisles of someone else’s brain by perusing their bookshelves. Gone will be the guilty joy of spending a rainy afternoon at a cottage with the remnants of someone else’s childhood: their Nancy Drews, their 1970s National Geographics. Without bookshelves, you will never know the warning signs contained in the e-reader of your handsome date – you will not know for months that he is reading The Secret and Feng Shui for Dummies, even if you stay over. You will never be able to ask, as casually as you can, “Did you like this?” as you pull down, as if fascinated, Patrick Swayze’s autobiography.

No doubt the creators of e-books will come up with an app for this: If you are a Twilight reader at a social gathering, your machine will sense the proximity of another Twilight novel in someone else’s reader and will light up with a big pulsing hot-chocolate icon. (If it’s set to Chuck Palahniuk, the beer icon lights up, and so on.) I know, technology can do all this. But it won’t be the same as good old clutter. When all our apartments are clean, I will miss the wooden skeletons from Mexico and the science-fiction from high school.

The Globe and the Mail | A Lament for the Bookshelf

I disagree with the author on some points. While it's true that uncluttered spaces are fashionable, I think having books along the walls of a space still work with that aesthetic.

"The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking." - John Kenneth Galbraith

Three broadcast networks rejected an ad for using the dirty word "vagina." So Kotex had the ad reshot, using the second grade euphemism "down there." Two out of three networks still considered that to be inappropriate. (Unfortunately, they're not telling which networks made this ludicrous decision, or you can bet they'd be getting emails from readers.)

“It’s very funny because the whole spot is about censorship,” Merrie Harris, global business director at JWT, which created the T.V. spot, told the New York Times. “The whole category has been very euphemistic, or paternalistic even, and we’re saying, enough with the euphemisms, and get over it. Tampon is not a dirty word, and neither is vagina.” Au contraire, say squeamish networks that think lady-products are icky. | Terms "Vagina" and "Down There" Banned from T.V. Ads
Image by Tobin Yelland

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

"Chastity - the most unnatural of all the sexual perversions." - Aldous Huxley

BRISTOL, Va. – Nineteen-year-old Keshia Canter handed three burgers, fries and milkshakes to a car-load of Tuesday afternoon customers at the Hi-Lo Burger’s drive-though window. A lady sitting in the backseat leaned forward, between the two men in front, and handed her a leaflet: “Women & Girls” it said across the top.
“Even though nothing is showing, you’re being ungodly,” Canter recalled the woman telling her. “You make men want to be sinful.”
Canter was wearing boots pulled up over jeans, a pink zebra-print shirt with a black jacket zipped up over it. She has blond hair, dark eye make-up and a little red lip ring. “I just asked if she needed any salt, pepper or ketchup,” Canter said. “I mean, how do I respond to that?”
Minutes later, Canter’s mother, Pam Yates, who owns the restaurant, returned from the bank. Canter handed her “Women & Girls” and Yates started reading.
“You may have been given this leaflet because of the way you are dressed,” it begins. “Have you thought about standing before the true and living God to be judged?”
It continues with one essential theme: The sins of men are, in part, the fault of women, specifically women in tight-fitting clothing. Yates was annoyed. Then she got to a section on page two:
“Scripture tells us that when a man looks on a woman to lust for her he has already committed adultery in his heart. If you are dressed in a way that tempts a men to do this secret (or not so secret) sin, you are a participant in the sin,” the leaflet states. “By the way, some rape victims would not have been raped if they had dressed properly. So can we really say they were innocent victims?”
The hand-out is signed “anonymous.”

TriCities Local News | Blame the victim: Religious leaflet claims ‘ungodly’ dressed women provoke rape

Sunday, February 21, 2010

one step at a time

The law - to be issued "in the coming days" - would allow women to appear in court on family-related cases, including divorce and child custody.
At the moment, they can only work behind the scenes in government and court offices.
The new legislation will also allow Saudi women to complete certain procedures without the presence of a witness.
"In accordance with the new law, women will be able to complete their preliminary procedures with notaries by just presenting their IDs," said Ministry of Justice official Osama al-Mirdas, according to Arab News.
Under a system of male guardianship, Saudi Arabian women are required to be kept separate from men they are not related to.
All are veiled to a greater or lesser degree in public, they are not allowed to drive, and women under 45 must receive permission from a male when they travel.
Opportunities for education and employment are also dependent on male guardianship.
But a number of steps have been taken to ease restrictions - for instance women are now allowed to stay in hotels unaccompanied.
Last year, a senior cleric was removed after criticising a new mixed-sex science and technology university.
The cleric, Sheikh Saad al-Shethry, had described the mixing of sexes in any university as evil and a great sin.

BBC News | Saudi women to be allowed to argue cases in court

quite fixated on the issue of homosexuality, for some reason

And then he went off on what he affectionately called “his tirade” — giving the same mangled pseudo-Aristotelian spiel about how natural rights have to be grounded in natural law, meaning substance, and the final result of the reproductive organ must be a reproductive act, and all of that.

“Yeah, yeah, I get your argument, I understand it, ” I tried to interrupt, But he said that I didn’t, and he finished.

“But the vast majority of married couples partake in sodomy — oral sex, anal sex, fetishes. Hasn’t your girlfriend ever given you a blowjob? I think the government should just get outof the whole marriage business!”

Everyone around us agreed with that statement. Sensing some momentum, I went on: “I’mthe one who says that my values shouldn’t have anything to do with government. It’s youwho wants to impose his own biases upon the rest of the world!”

Nate Gunderson pondered why it was such a burning issue for Ryan.

“Because conservatives should not be upholding groups who support homosexual marriage and sodomy.”

I said something I don’t quite recall, and he mentioned something about how he could “take me on” physically if he needed to, to which I mentioned that his quick resort to force and threats said a lot about his political philosophy.

He said at around this point that he needed to go, and put out his hand to say goodbye. I stared at him, refusing to shake his hand, and he said “Well, I don’t really want to shake your hand, you’re intrinsically evil.”

We all started walking away, with him talking to his girlfriend, and me talking to Nate, blasting Sorba more.

Someone who was with him asked Sorba: “Really, though, he had a point: why do you care about this so much when the economy is in shambles and the debt is growing and spending is out of control?”

“Because it corrupts the youth and the culture,” he replied.

When we reached the area near the escalator downstairs, he turned on his camera. I put out my arms, striking a mocking pose, but realized he kept holding the camera at me.

“Wait, are you recording or taking a picture?” He was recording.

“Ah! OK…Well, I’d like to say, then, that the person behind the camera is a Hitler Youth waiting for a fuhrer to sweep him off his feet into a grand national project so he can sacrifice individuals like stock-fodder to his own biases.”

He turned off the camera and approached me. I told him he should get his girlfriend to give him a blowjob so that he could experience the joys of sodomy. He put two of his fingers an inch from my face and said that he’d want to fight me if a girl wasn’t around. “Ah, the use of force!” I said again.

It essentially ended, there.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"I envy paranoids; they actually feel people are paying attention to them." - Susan Sontag

58 Lungomare 9 Maggio, Bari, Puglia, Italy

412 US-9W, Bethlehem, New York

Via Valassa, Rho, Lombardy, Italy

24 Rue Neyron, Saint Bienne, France

2368 IA-141, Dodge, Iowa

Art Fag City | The Nine Eyes of Google Street View

i'm a computer

First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses--including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors--have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities.

Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

Third, as part of this investigation but independent of the attack on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users' computers.

Google Blog | A New Approach to China

US State Department Statement on Google Operations in China

Thursday, January 07, 2010

run for your life

As a psychologist, one of my favorite puzzles is the motivation to experience pain and unpleasantness, something the psychologist Paul Rozin has called “benign masochism.” The best examples here are the pleasures of the imagination. There are millions who pay to see movies that terrify them, including those with scenes of imaginative and horrific torture. Others prefer sadness to fear. They are drawn to the suicidal prince, the young mother dying of cancer, the school bus and the cliff. Hundreds of years ago, David Hume marveled at the “unaccountable pleasure” that spectators of a tragedy feel from sorrow, terror, and anxiety: “The more they are touched and affected, the more they are delighted with the spectacle.”

NYT | The Long and Short of It

Sunday, December 27, 2009

new noise

Don Cupitt: "Jesus' sayings have a better chance of being original than his life. About his life, we don't know much, except that he was crucified. He was a wandering Jewish teacher, traveled around Palestine in the first third of the first century for a few years, then he fell foul to the temple authorities in Jerusalem and he got crucified. But otherwise, he's really known for the first 20 years or so after his death simply as a moral teacher. And then, the supernatural beliefs about him began to develop. People began to believe that he was risen from the dead, that he had been the christ or the messiah designate, exalted to Heaven, and so on. Those beliefs developed very rapidly, and they soon hit his moral teaching. I'm thinking that the moral teaching remains very interesting and original, and deserves a look.

"...The original Jesus, oddly enough, never endorses the law of Moses, can't really be described as an orthodox Jew, but can't really be described as teaching any Christian doctrine at all, anyway. He's more like an Eastern sage...Jesus was the first modern radical Humanist.

"...I copied out the 20 passages in the Old Testament where the ancient Jews dreamed about a better world in the future: the kingdom of God on Earth. In all those passages, it's a secular, good society that they're asking for. The sort of good society that Karl Marx, and liberalism were still asking for all those centuries later. So it's a basically secular ethical dream of a society in which human beings really do get on better with each other. And [Jesus] sees the way to it is getting rid of living under an external law and instead learning to live from the heart. Jesus takes from the Jewish prophets the idea that God himself recognizes that the Torah has not worked, it has not made people righteous. Instead, God's spirit would have to be put into people's hearts, or the law would have to be internalized."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

everybody's gotta learn sometime

Ever-increasing choice was supposed to mean the end of the blockbuster. It has had the opposite effect.

“Perhaps the best explanation of why this might be so was offered in 1963. In “Formal Theories of Mass Behaviour”, William McPhee noted that a disproportionate share of the audience for a hit was made up of people who consumed few products of that type. (Many other studies have since reached the same conclusion.) A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year was disproportionately likely to have read “The Lost Symbol”, by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it.”

The Economist | A World of Hits

Monday, December 14, 2009

Buffy: What is it with those guys? Willow: They're obnoxious. Professionally.

Over the course of the film Edward is in turns patronizing, condescending and just downright creepy. He spies on Bella, he stalks her (for “her own good”), he sneaks into her room to watch her sleep (without her consent) and even confesses to a deep, overpowering desire to kill her. We marveled at how the film attempted to present this behavior as sweet and deeply romantic – and how the larger pop culture discussion continued that framing for millions of young Twilight fans. At several points during the film Anita and I found ourselves asking each other: “What Would Buffy Do?”

What Would Buffy Do? Notes on Dusting Edward Cullen

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond." - Hypatia of Alexandria

Margaret Wertheim leads a project to re-create the creatures of the coral reefs using a crochet technique invented by a mathematician -- celebrating the amazements of the reef, and deep-diving into the hyperbolic geometry underlying coral creation.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

humina humina humina

When Thomas Mann was a child his father contrived an experiment to teach him and his siblings a lesson about appetite. “Our father assured us,” Mann writes, “that once in our lives we could eat as many cream puffs … and cream rolls at the pastry shop as we wanted. He led us into a sweet smelling Paradise, and let the dream become reality - and we were amazed how quickly we reached the limit of our desire, which we believed to be infinite.” Here the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. We need only to experiment with our greed to discover that it is only in our fantasies that we are excessive; in reality our appetite is sensible; is, as we like to say, self-regulating - we know when we have had enough.

The Guardian | Insatiable Creatures

Friday, December 04, 2009

Kirk: "You're not going to Space Camp but at least you've got those remote control trucks and your confidence."

RR: What was it like running the temple?
JD: I was nervous and wanted to win. While waiting for that segment, we were given a simplistic map of the Temple to study so we would know the layout and what to do in each room. I made sure that both Dorothy and I knew exactly what to do in each room, remembering to keep an eye out for a Pendant of Life.

When I went through the Temple, I ran, jumped, dived, and scurried as fast as I could. Afterwards I was told that I ran it in record time and that I blew right by a Temple Guard.

I got held up in the room with that damn monkey statue. I was sure my time was going to expire before I figured that thing out. There are so many combinations and permutations of which way you can put those monkey blocks!

Interview with Joel Davis, Legends of the Hidden Temple contestant

Thursday, December 03, 2009


On December 2nd, 2009 we will begin slicing the brain of the amnesic patient H.M. into giant histological sections. The brain specimen is going to be frozen and sectioned whole during one continuous session that we expect will last approximately 30 hours.

Project HM | Blog | Live video

Wikipedia | HM (patient)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

come on, kitty-kitty-kitty

If the goal is to earn a living, then, maybe it isn’t really true that 18-year-olds need to be imparted with a sense of panic about getting into college (though they certainly need to learn). Some people are hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, when they would rather be learning to build things or fix things. One shop teacher suggested to me that “in schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement. Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”

A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work.

New York TImes | The Case for Working with Your Hands

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The point of distinguishing constitutions from laws is to prevent short term fears from overriding hard-won rights.

"The proposal on banning minaret construction was championed by rightwing and ultra-conservative groups. The government and most political parties as well as churches and the business community came out strongly against it.

To be approved, it needed the backing of a majority of both voters and cantons.

The director of gfs.bern told Swiss French television that the issue by the end of the campaign was not minarets, but the position of Muslims in Switzerland." [...]

"The number of Muslim immigrants has increased to about 350,000 (up to 4.5 per cent of the Swiss population) since the 1990s. Most of them came from the former Yugoslavia and Turkey and are considered moderates.

There are an estimated 160 mosques and prayer rooms in Switzerland, mainly in disused factories and warehouses. Only four of them have a minaret, including the mosques in Geneva and Zurich."

It is worth stating that Switzerland has some very strict rules about architecture. For instance, no building may be so tall as to obscure a view of the Alps. But mostly, this vote seems to have passed based on a fear of Islamicisation in the country and a perception that Muslims do not attempt to integrate into society as much as they should.

SwissInfo | Minaret ban approved, projections show