the mind is not a product of conscious complexity, summer field II wallpaper, a link assortment

Where the mindless or automation like abilities of DNA intersect with Alan Turing and computing, ‘A Perfect and Beautiful Machine’: What Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Reveals About Artificial Intelligence

It was, indeed, a strange inversion of reasoning. To this day many people cannot get their heads around the unsettling idea that a purposeless, mindless process can crank away through the eons, generating ever more subtle, efficient, and complex organisms without having the slightest whiff of understanding of what it is doing.

In order to be a perfect and beautiful computing machine, it is not requisite to know what arithmetic is.

Turing’s idea was a similar — in fact remarkably similar — strange inversion of reasoning. The Pre-Turing world was one in which computers were people, who had to understand mathematics in order to do their jobs. Turing realized that this was just not necessary: you could take the tasks they performed and squeeze out the last tiny smidgens of understanding, leaving nothing but brute, mechanical actions. In order to be a perfect and beautiful computing machine, it is not requisite to know what arithmetic is.

What Darwin and Turing had both discovered, in their different ways, was the existence of competence without comprehension. This inverted the deeply plausible assumption that comprehension is in fact the source of all advanced competence. Why, after all, do we insist on sending our children to school, and why do we frown on the old-fashioned methods of rote learning? We expect our children’s growing competence to flow from their growing comprehension.

Mr. Dennett goes on to speculate that one of the reasons some people cannot or will not grasp evolution is because they associate complexity with the kind of abstract thinking which humans are capable. DNA spinning out RNA, in turn weaving complex proteins endlessly – as long as an organism lives – without the input of conscious intelligence. Artificial intelligence thus must also come from thinking like a Homo sapien. Only life evolved without conscious input and computers frequently tackle computations that would take most people hours. Alan Turing wrote this about a computation machine that could act autonomously, but he could have also been talking about evolution and nucleic acids,

The behavior of the computer at any moment is determined by the symbols which he is observing and his “state of mind” at that moment. We may suppose that there is a bound B to the number of symbols or squares which the computer can observe at one moment. If he wishes to observe more, he must use successive observations. … The operation actually performed is determined … by the state of mind of the computer and the observed symbols. In particular, they determine the state of mind of the computer after the operation is carried out.

We know that a computer will select answers that work given some basic instruction. Genes select for things that work or answers to the environment. Will features like flowers, lungs, wings, eyes or pollen survive and be able to reproduce. Biological features that do not work tend not to survive so they are not selected for. Intelligence has its benefits, but obviously it is not required for species to survive and thrive for millions of years. In terms of evolutionary success beetles far out number humans, as do bacteria and numbers of other creatures.

summer field II wallpaper

Jazz junctions – riding New York’s A Train

From Harlem and upper Manhattan to Brooklyn, Queens and the Atlantic Ocean – New York city’s A Line subway route covers over 30 miles, takes two hours to ride from end to end, and is the inspiration for one of jazz’s best known tunes.

A very good narrated slide show with music.

8e rue des saules by eugene atget. the offset issue is part of the original image.

I’m not sure what attraction is evolved in shooting oneself in the foot. It’s an easy target or perhaps sadistic tendencies. Pepco is a utility company, Pepco spends more on lobbying than taxes

Pepco spent more lobbying Congress than it paid in taxes between 2008 and 2010, a new report shows.

The electric utility paid $3.8 million to lobbyists in that period, while it paid no taxes. In fact, it made $508 million in profits from federal tax rebates — paying an effective tax rate of negative 57.6 percent, according to the report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Citizens for Tax Justice.

Pepco, named “the most hated company in America,” was one of 30 corporations listed in the report that collectively made nearly $164 billion in U.S. profits and received $67.9 billion in tax subsidies between 2008 and 2010. It was one of 29 corporations that paid an average negative federal tax rate, effectively profiting from corporate incentive programs.

In a report from 2011 30 major U.S. corporations spent more on lobbying than taxes. Those figures would also be included in a summary of the nation’s wealth. Imagine if Pepco for example used that money to fund scholarships. They could have paid for 75 students to get their undergrad degrees from Stanford  or the University of Virginia. Those 30 corporations spent a combined average of about $400,000 per day on lobbying over the course of three years.

Learning Portuguese (Aboard the Seattle-Maru in June 1917)

This photograph shows Japanese emigrants to Brazil learning Portuguese aboard the Japanese emigrant ship Seattle-Maru in 1917. The ship took about 80 days to sail from the port of Kobe, Japan, to Santos, Brazil. Japanese emigration to Brazil began in 1908, and reached its peak in 1926–35. Following the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, the government of Brazil looked to immigrants to address a labor shortage in the increasingly important coffee industry. European immigrants, particularly Italians, filled the gap at first, but were later joined by immigrants from Japan, where rural poverty was widespread and the economy was struggling to modernize and to reabsorb soldiers returning after the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5).

That story reminded me of this recent photojournalism piece in the NYT, Soccer’s Lost Boys, Stranded in Istanbul

In March 2010, more than 40 Nigerians flew to Istanbul, carrying an invitation to try out with Turkey’s professional soccer teams. Within a week of arriving, the players realized that the promises had been false, that their money had been stolen and that they had nowhere to go but the streets. They’ve been there ever since.

The story has contains the irony of many photojournalism pieces about tragedies, sad, but beautiful photographs.

@TweetsofOld – The lightning rod men, after gulling our people out of about $1000, have left for a new field of harvest. PA1896

Lena Dunham’s goodbye to Nora Ephron –  Seeing Nora Everywhere. Aspiring writers and Ephron fans should both enjoy it.

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leap motion – becoming the future, yellow pepper wallpaper, we live in a material world

Remember the movie The Minority Report based on the P.K. Dick short story. Even if you did not like the movie the look at the future was interesting in terms of the technology. I remember reading an article about how the producers determined what futuristic technology they would use was based on interviews they did with scientists who specialize in predicting what science and technology will look like in that future, and thus how society will change with that technology. One of the most fascinating possibilities presented in the movie was the sensory manipulation of computing devices. Not to be confused with touch sensitive devices like smartphones or computer pads. At the office John Anderton quickly scrawls through multiple screens and at home he watches a movie and rewinds it a few frames just by flicking his hand at the screen. Well that feature has pretty much arrived, The Most Important New Technology Since the Smart Phone Arrives December 2012

By now, many of us are aware of the Leap Motion, a small, $70 gesture control system that simply plugs into any computer and, apparently, just works. If you’ve seen the gesture interfaces in Minority Report, you know what it does. More importantly, if you’re familiar with the touch modality — and at this point, most of us are — the interface is entirely intuitive. It’s touch, except it happens in the space in front of the screen, so you don’t have to cover your window into your tech with all those unsightly smudges.

[  ]…Plus, Leap operates in three dimensions rather than two. Forget pinch-to-zoom; imagine “push to scroll,” rotating your flattened hand to control the orientation of an object with a full six degrees of freedom, or using both hands at once to control either end of a bezier surface you’re casually sculpting as part of an object you’ll be sending to your 3D printer.

The fact that the Leap can see almost any combination of objects – a pen, your fingers, all 10 fingers at once, should make every interface designer on the planet giddy with anticipation.

To double or triple your fun there is going to be an app store. Combined with the power of thousands of developers, Leap should be an amazing advance in education, art and the sciences.

yellow pepper wallpaper

I can kind of see where people find Deepak Chopra charming or bright, but he should take just one course in introductory logic, Proof That the Brain Creates the Conscious Mind

“Where is the experience of red in your brain?” The question was put to me by Deepak Chopra at his Sages and Scientists Symposium in Carlsbad, Calif., on March 3. A posse of presenters argued that the lack of a complete theory by neuroscientists regarding how neural activity translates into conscious experiences (such as “redness”) means that a physicalist approach is inadequate or wrong. “The idea that subjective experience is a result of electrochemical activity remains a hypothesis,” Chopra elaborated in an e-mail. “It is as much of a speculation as the idea that consciousness is fundamental and that it causes brain activity and creates the properties and objects of the material world.”

“Where is Aunt Millie’s mind when her brain dies of Alzheimer’s?” I countered to Chopra. “Aunt Millie was an impermanent pattern of behavior of the universe and returned to the potential she emerged from,” Chopra rejoined. “In the philosophic framework of Eastern traditions, ego identity is an illusion and the goal of enlightenment is to transcend to a more universal nonlocal, nonmaterial identity.”

Red exists outside the condition of being alive. It is defined by humans via processing, but our processing does not make it exist. If there is something supernatural about the logical condition of the color red than every animal that can see color has a soul – or whatever magical ingredient one believes in. Or still another way of looking at it; if all humanity died tomorrow would the color red stop existing. The only thing nonmaterial identity proven thus far is the law of thermodynamics that says all the matter in the universe is constant. So eventually the material you returns to being individual atoms – which are mostly composed of light. Light is still being examined, but thus far no one has identified it as having something like human consciousness. That requires the organized structure of neurons. Neurons are just billions of atoms arranged in a way that can perceive red. Miraculous, but not supernatural.

JPMorgan Trading Loss May Reach $9 Billion

As JPMorgan has moved rapidly to unwind the position — its most volatile assets in particular — internal models at the bank have recently projected losses of as much as $9 billion. In April, the bank generated an internal report that showed that the losses, assuming worst-case conditions, could reach $8 billion to $9 billion, according to a person who reviewed the report.

With much of the most volatile slice of the position sold, however, regulators are unsure how deep the reported losses will eventually be. Some expect that the red ink will not exceed $6 billion to $7 billion.

Nonetheless, the sharply higher loss totals will feed a debate over how strictly large financial institutions should be regulated and whether some of the behemoth banks are capitalizing on their status as too big to fail to make risky trades.

….“Essentially, JPMorgan has been operating a hedge fund with federal insured deposits within a bank,” said Mark Williams, a professor of finance at Boston University, who also served as a Federal Reserve bank examiner.

H/T to Atrios for the link. The idea that Jp made that trade based on the idea floating somewhere around their hormone riddled heads – that they would get a another bail-out is galling. Though I wonder if they fully understand the political atmosphere. The next panic that might cause a collapse of the financial sector could be met with a government response such as taking over the bank, firing the top executives and selling off toxic assets at a big discount. I just do not see this president – under current circumstances signing off on another TARP-like bail-out.

little town tree

For hardcore geek who love ink, Stormtrooper with wellies and umbrella tattoo

Will Fox Report On Fortune Bombshell That Fast And Furious Didn’t Involve Gunwalking? I wonder if Democrats will now have the….. to move to censure Darrell Issa (R-CA) for abuse of his committee powers.

newton and doyle – the allure of magic, black and white leaves, the brain’s preconceived body plan

Isaac Newton (25 December 1642 – 20 March 1727)  and Arthur Conan Doyle (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930) were men of entirely different ages in terms of human knowledge, but they were both thinkers in the rationalist tradition. Logic and proof defined most of their world. Yet they also had something else in common, a weakness for the the mystical. Newton, The Last Magician

Keynes sought papers on any topic at first, but eventually concentrated on one niche—Newton’s alchemy. Few people knew the father of modern science had dabbled in alchemy; but the more Keynes collected and the more he “brood[ed] over these queer collections,” the clearer it became that alchemy wasn’t a niche to Newton at all. It was, in many ways, Newton’s life work—more vital to him than physics or mathematics ever was. This Newton “was not the first of the age of reason,” Keynes concluded. “He was the last of the magicians.”

[  ]….Still, the illicit nature of chymistry doesn’t completely explain why Newton concealed his research (Boyle didn’t). There’s no delicate way to put it: Almost everyone who knew him found him disarmingly weird. He had a mean temper, probably never had sex, and suffered at least one raving breakdown, during which he wished death on Locke, one of his few friends. Thoughts of sin tormented Newton. As a young man he wrote a letter addressed to God outlining every peccadillo he ever committed, faults ranging from the touchingly innocuous—“making pies on Sunday night”—to the abusive and creepy—“punching my sister” and “threating my [step]father and mother . . . to burne them and the house over them.”

In a post early on in this blog I mentioned Carl Zimmer’s article on how alchemy started out as magic, but did evolve into the science of chemistry. While Newton’s experiments frequently had an element of magic about them, he did produce some scientific results. Some of his behavior, like purposely putting a needle into his eye socket ( not his eye) were far from based on science, at least in the way we understand the scientific method today. The needle experiment and starring into the sun for hours would be more like something we’d see in a Jackass movie or something a precocious kid would do on a bet. Sherlock Holmes in Fairyland

Perhaps the ordinary was just too painful for Conan Doyle. Many draw a connection between his zeal for the supernatural and his despair following the deaths of his son Kingsley and brother Innes by influenza in the closing days of World War I—two passings among many in his family over the course of a hard dozen years. The hope that we may contact the dead via séance (which Conan Doyle allegedly did) is enough to test even the most rigid materialism; the Great War itself, full of senseless attrition and biological atrocity, was a trauma that prompted a search for answers. Conan Doyle would write eloquently about his doubts in the supremacy of science and his stirring sense of a world outside its grasp:

Victorian science would have left the world hard and clean and bare, like a landscape in the moon; but this science is in truth but a little light in the darkness, and outside that limited circle of definite knowledge we see the loom and shadow of gigantic and fantastic possibilities around us, throwing themselves continually across our consciousness in such ways that it is difficult to ignore them.

Such is the tone of The Coming of the Fairies (1922), which takes a broad survey of the unexplained in nature but mainly serves to reproduce and argue the veracity of the Cottingley Fairy photographs, five ethereal exposures taken by young cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths that show the girls at play in the woods with winged sprites. The first photos surfaced in 1919, when Elsie’s mother brought them to a meeting of the Theosophical Society, an umbrella covering all manner of occult and paranormal interests, with the loose objective of universal fraternity.

The fairies were hat-pinned cardboard imitations—drawn by Elsie, a talented artist—from Claude Shepperson illustrations featured in Princess Mary’s Gift Book—a compendium of fantastic tales that included a Far East story from, of all people, Arthur Conan Doyle.

As Sherlock Holmes fans know – logic and deduction was all. When asked why they thought Doyle believed the Cottingley Fairy photos were real in an interview in 1985 Elsie and Frances said,  “I can’t understand to this day why they were taken in—they wanted to be taken in.”

black and white tri-tone dust, dirt and leaves

 

Just considering how strange our dreams are, where does all this crazy kinetic imagery come from, it is a small step to wonder how much stuff is in our brains we do not know in the way that we perceive conscious knowledge, Phantom Finger Points To Secrets In The Human Brain

Which is very strange. Normally, when a limb or body part is removed, the brain re-imagines what was lopped off, and recreates what was once there. Lose your arm, you imagine it back. Lose a finger, back it comes.

In RN’s case, her phantom grew a finger that wasn’t there. For the first 18 years of her real life, she didn’t have an index finger. Then out of the blue, or rather, out of her brain, she suddenly produced an imaginary one, and she’s still got it, 35 years later.

What doctors Ramachandran and McGeoch wanted to know was: How did this happen? How do you get a phantom finger when you didn’t have one in the first place?

This patient was born without a finger because of a malformed hand. She lost the hand and like a lot of people that lose limbs she had phantom limb syndrome. Only she imagined and had pain in a finger she was not born with. It is best to read the article with the illustrations –  with that said, it appears as though the brain is prewired to have a perception of a complete body. If by way of a birth defect a person lacks a finger or hand their brain still sees it and can imagine having pain in the hand or finger it thinks should be there.

19th century surgical equipment

 

COCOROSIE – WE ARE ON FIRE (OFFICIAL VIDEO). Some great mystical imaginary in this video that fits in with the post.

A marvel light, a daze of gold
Tears of a grass widow
When I was young, I thought I’d be
more than just a fantasy
I wanna be this, I wanna be that
A big black dog with the soul of a cat
The blue-eyed doe, inside on me
He won’t leave, he’s buried deep

dreams and recall, american harvest wallpaper, cost benefit of virtue

A cranky and comic rant that has some truth to it and also says something important about human recall, Why I Hate Dreams

I hate dreams. Dreams are the Sea Monkeys of consciousness: in the back pages of sleep they promise us teeming submarine palaces but leave us, on waking, with a hermetic residue of freeze-dried dust. The wisdom of dreams is a fortune on paper that you can’t cash out, an oasis of shimmering water that turns, when you wake up, to a mouthful of sand. I hate them for their absurdities and deferrals, their endlessly broken promise to amount to something, by and by.

[  ]…Whatever stuff dreams are made on, it isn’t words. As soon as you begin to tell a dream, as Freud reminds us, you interpolate, falsify, distort; you lie. That roseate airplane, that wide blue arc of cold water: no, it wasn’t like that, not at all. Better just to skip it, and pass the maple syrup. (emphasis mine)

Unlike that author I have a higher tolerance for listening to people recount their dreams. I do have two big conditions. Let’s not ramble on all day. I realize that it may have meant a lot to you in some way, but not every little detail matters to me. Learn to edit. The gory details of sexually graphic dreams are as best kept to oneself or if you must, one’s therapist. Chabon is right about trying to capture a dream accurately. Even fifteen minutes afterwards many of the details become nebulous, lost in the fog of recall. Since dreams are not bound by social conventions they frequently include details that are left out by the now conscious mind that is well aware of social conventions. Even best friends and the closet family are going to find parts of your tale, icky.

 

american harvest wallpaper

 

One of the first steps in becoming a cynic is the day you figure out that your parents hedged on some larger truth when they told you to never lie. It is always best to tell the truth. Children as young as four years old lie to avoid punishment. Though they are not completely aware of the disconnection between what parents say and the consequences. It takes a while to figure out that telling the truth means punishment for doing the thing you did not lie about because lying is wrong. So very early on we make the decision between two conflicting narratives – lie, which is wrong or tell the truth and suffer the punishment. Or lie and get away with it. The cost benefit scenario: Why We Lie, Go to Prison and Eat Cake

Ariely: If you thought that crime or dishonesty is driven by a cost-benefit analysis, then you have some very basic solutions — for example, put people in prison. And people who were going to commit a crime would say, ‘Okay, I’ll go to prison, not worth it.’ I’ve been talking to big cheaters, including people who have been to prison, and I tell you, nobody I’ve talked to has ever thought about the long-term consequences of their actions. How many people who did insider trading thought about the probability of being caught and how much time they would get in prison? The number is incredibly close to zero, maybe exactly zero. What will happen if we increase the prison sentence? Basically nothing, because it’s not part of their mindset. What we need to understand is the process by which people become dishonest.

learning to love an economic nightmare, summer umbrella wallpaper, links and definitions

THE GOOD CITIZENS’ LEAGUE had spread through the country, but nowhere was it so effective and well esteemed as in cities of the type of Zenith, commercial cities of a few hundred thousand inhabitants, most of which—though not all—lay inland, against a background of cornfields and mines and of small towns which depended upon them for mortgage-loans, table-manners, art, social philosophy and millinery.
To the League belonged most of the prosperous citizens of Zenith. They were not all of the kind who called themselves “Regular Guys.” Besides these hearty fellows, these salesmen of prosperity, there were the aristocrats, that is, the men who were richer or had been rich for more generations: the presidents of banks and of factories, the land-owners, the corporation lawyers, the fashionable doctors, and the few young-old men who worked not at all but, reluctantly remaining in Zenith, collected luster-ware and first editions as though they were back in Paris. All of them agreed that the working-classes must be kept in their place; and all of them perceived that American Democracy did not imply any equality of wealth, but did demand a wholesome sameness of thought, dress, painting, morals, and vocabulary.
In this they were like the ruling-class of any other country, particularly of Great Britain, but they differed in being more vigorous and in actually trying to produce the accepted standards which all classes, everywhere, desire, but usually despair of realizing.  From  Babbitt.1922. By Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951).

Since Lewis wrote Babbit there has been change. Which ruins the lazy though comforting – in a dark sort of way – the cliche that nothing really changes except the technology. There was a major blip in the narrative from the years of The New Deal to about the early 1980s. Work was rewarded even though the wealthy could still polish their lounge chairs with the backsides of their expensive suits while claiming to be job creators and a little better than the masses. Over, like just another new gadget the shine and novelty wore off this half achieved dream of egalitarianism – partly a resentment of the final nail in Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights Act. Than Medicare won out over sacrificing the elderly to the gods of dog-eat-dog economics. Women got more uppity than ever demanding a place at the table. More resentment. Many Americans dared to question the judgement of a military industrial fever that presented Vietnam as a choice between patriotism and godless communism. That was the new age of False Choices. Were you with the pot smoking Jimi Hendrix listening hippies or were you with the guys who smelled like they bathed in Old Spice. Banking and fiance were professions. They were necessary, if unglamorous. A generation of gray flannel suits was born with restless poorly developed souls – of course they resented change. They dreamed of a return to something that never was – a crime free country, real men drink scotch, you didn’t get divorced -that was a sin and worse a social taboo, you sowed your oats, and oats need sewing of course, and had a nice respectable affair. Over the next couple of decades a new zeitgeist took hold. Never mind that the guys at the Country Club were taking home unearned and undeserved income in wheel barrows, some Puerto Rican women was getting a few dollars in free food, blacks were taking seats in the front of the bus and swimming in the same public pools. Women were  …gasp demanding final say over their bodies and reproductive rights. Pay no attention to the people taking away your labor rights or sending your job to Asia. Buy a bundle of tube socks for a dollar and just be thankful. Norma Rae may have won the day, but we’ll show her and her like minded commie friends, close this factory and have all your sheets and towels by by actual communists half a world away. By 2008 the dream or nightmare had become the standard – Capitalism and the Mad Uncle in the Attic

Our current version of capitalism is good at generating more currency, not greater wealth. And we forget that currency is merely a surrogate for things of real value, with no tangible value in and of itself.

And even the currency isn’t being distributed equally.  It’s being siphoned off by the richest and most powerful in a spiral of inequity.

It isn’t making us happy, it’s enslaving us to a life spent pursuing more and more stuff we don’t need for reasons we don’t understand.  Bigger; more; faster becomes biggest; most; fastest.  But easy, easier, easiest becomes fatter, sicker weaker.

It isn’t making us free, it’s creating a tyranny of the corporations and plutocrats. They weaken government in the name of freedom, only to turn us into indentured servants to a system that’s designed to take from the poor and middle class and give to the uber rich, even as it liquidates Earth’s treasures.

But the real tragedy isn’t our own alienation or our economic and spiritual impoverishment.   It is the diminished legacy we leave the rest of humanity and indeed, the rest of the biosphere.

It’s our willingness to consume the future in an orgy of gluttony, drowning out the Mad Uncle’s protests with the noise of our own slurping, chewing, smacking, munching, crunching as we inhale our children’s birthright.

Hyperbole?

Not really.  Every living system is in decline, and the rate is accelerating.

It is not that the more things change the more they stay the same. Rather it is the more the cycle turns the more we return to the days of feudal lords and a permanent underclass.

Mercury Bob Hope Special Concept Car ‘1950

This car was actually a mechanical mash-up of cars done by Lloyd Templeton, with the help of his sons. In include parts from a Mercury, Chevy and a Pontiac. The hood was taken from a from a 1936 Chrysler and and the front grille is from a 1946 Dodge. The only reason it is called the Bob Hope Special is because it was going to be in one of his movies. More here.

summer umbrella wallpaper

Writing about writing has become a cottage industry on the net and in print. I just like this one because its inspired by the comic stripe by Charles Shultz – 6 Rules for a Great Story, Inspired by Snoopy.

Some – some residents seem to go out of their way to make the sate look like the western version of the Dark Ages, but Texas is not a terrible place – Where I Go: Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory. “When he’s not performing, Parsons escapes to his hometown of Houston for some Southern comfort—he lists off his favorite museums, Mexican food, and place to play darts.”

Assholes: The definition stays the same, but includes new ones to be one.

 Fox’s Monica Crowley: “Kooks” In Democratic Party Have Taken U.S. “On A Socialist Joyride, Starting With” Obama. I got my right-wing conservative decoder ring when it fell out of a truck carrying some turnips so I can decode M’s Crowley for you. Lay down and let corporations take away any semblance of rights and individuality or she’ll call you bad names and play Ted Nugent records till your eardrums break.

The Scam Wall Street Learned From the Mafia – How America’s biggest banks took part in a nationwide bid-rigging conspiracy – until they were caught on tape

The defendants in the case – Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg and Peter Grimm – worked for GE Capital, the finance arm of General Electric. Along with virtually every major bank and finance company on Wall Street – not just GE, but J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, UBS, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Wachovia and more – these three Wall Street wiseguys spent the past decade taking part in a breathtakingly broad scheme to skim billions of dollars from the coffers of cities and small towns across America. The banks achieved this gigantic rip-off by secretly colluding to rig the public bids on municipal bonds, a business worth $3.7 trillion. By conspiring to lower the interest rates that towns earn on these investments, the banks systematically stole from schools, hospitals, libraries and nursing homes – from “virtually every state, district and territory in the United States,” according to one settlement. And they did it so cleverly that the victims never even knew they were being ­cheated. No thumbs were broken, and nobody ended up in a landfill in New Jersey, but money disappeared, lots and lots of it, and its manner of disappearance had a familiar name: organized crime.

Conservatives consider reporting activities like this the same thing as beating an angel to death with a copy of Das Kapital.

 

behavior modification and ethics, black and white rainy day, the two faces of gossip

This research – Scientists Block Pathological Aggression in Mice –  brings up an interesting ethical dilemma. If we are able to do something. Something that has an obvious upside for society, should we. Human beings have been known to fly into pathological rage – sudden violence, explosive outbursts and hostile overreactions to stress. It is not clinically speaking, according to my reading, a psychiatric disorder. Pretty much everyone has a moment, sooner or later when they lose it. The brain receptor these scientists shut down in mice also exists in human beings. There are people for who these fits of rage are not a once every few years event. Violent rage is a regular feature of their personality. Once the behavior results in a crime against someone then society has a stake in outcomes for that person. It cost about $20k per year to house a prisoner. Should these people be given some medication that permanently changes their behavior or forced on a regular drug regimen. Or how about the guy next door who has never assaulted anyone, but whose wife and kids live in constant fear of his angry mood swings. Maybe the occasional joint would do the trick. Most people report feeling more relaxed when they smoke pot. Some research is underway to explore different drugs based on the cannabinoids (THC and CBD) found in marijuana. Researchers in the U.K. are looking to breed marijuana to make medicines for metabolic disorders, epilepsy, and other diseases. One other ailment they’re looking at is to use THC in treating psychosis. If you’re diagnosed with psychosis and committed, you don’t have a lot of say over your course of treatment. So a drug that treats low levels of the enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAO A) – the pathway that was blocked in the mice, could be used. Judges have made the condition of some sentences to include regularly taking mood  altering medications. If the angry neighbor finally gets violent with someone in the family, jail time would be called for, but it would be cheaper for society if the sentence was a little shorter and release was on the condition of taking a drug that would prevent violent behavior. In the film and play Suddenly Last Summer, a young woman whose wealthy aunt considers mentally unstable is sentenced to an asylum – all very southern Gothic ( Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Cliff starred in the film version)  – where she is to be forced to have a lobotomy. A procedure that is more about her aunts’ desire for revenge than actual mental illness. Behavior modifying drugs sound much more humane by comparison.

black and white – at the cafe

MSU study – Carrots, not sticks, motivate workers. If you enjoy reading the occasional article over the years about people and what motivates them, this is one of those issue that goes back and forth. In this study the researchers found that rewards – promised rewards for meeting certain performance thresholds – was more effective than the threat of punishment. I tend to like this study because it is the way I would like the world to work. Though real world experience tells me that carrots work most of the time. Some people are just punishment oriented. It can be strange because if you’re a supervisor who prefers to be a carrot person these people are fu*king with your personality and your noble goals – which can in turn piss you off. You end up having these ‘stick’ talks with them, trying to convince someone who they need to do what? – act more in their rational self interests – so they will have a job to pay rent. If can be a learning moment – as this is situation is approaching the emotional neighborhood of being a parent. So with this experience in mind, do you still want to have children.

Some researchers who head some real world experience, Studies Find That Gossip Isn’t Just Loose Talk

But not all gossip is bad, and, in fact, gossip can be useful in maintaining social norms and keeping people in line.

Maybe it sounds as if I’m just trying to rationalize the desire to sometimes spread a few juicy bits of information, but recent research looks at the good side of gossip.

First, the definition of gossip is fairly neutral. As Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford who has written widely about gossip, notes, the word gossip originally just meant chatting with one’s “godsibs,” or the peer equivalent of godparents — in other words, people you were particularly close to.

In more modern terms, Timothy Hallett, associate professor in the Indiana University sociology department, defined it as “the unsanctioned evaluative talk about people who aren’t present.”

[  ]…“If you tell people that this person is a selfish jerk, people learn to avoid the exploitive jerk,” said Matthew Feinberg, a postdoctoral student at Stanford University and a co-author of the study.

Professor Willer said: “We sometimes need to trade information with third parties about people who aren’t around in order to learn from other people’s experiences.”

As a way of maintaining a level of social norms that allow people to function in a warehouse or office without being harassed or bullied, gossip can be useful. Though there is another side. Like if a few people in an office decide they do not like someone – call them a jerk, a smart-ass or a sexual harasser and they are not. I’ve seen cliques of people gang up on someone they don’t like, someone who makes them feel “uncomfortable” ( a common code word) and suddenly an employee who is a pretty good person is being fired because they violated rule 46 sub-paragraph 2B of the employee conduct code. Gossip and the gossipers become the modern equivalent of the Salem Witch Trials. You must be guilty because six people said so rationale. As though a few people have never ganged up on someone.

black and white rainy day

Sartre, Camus and a woman called Wanda

In the middle of the Second World War, Sartre and Camus had their own private little war going. But Sartre’s relationship with Wanda went right back to before the war, pre-Camus. For years, Sartre had been obsessing over Wanda’s older sister, Olga Kosakiewicz, one of Simone de Beauvoir’s students. De Beauvoir seduced Olga to start with, then tried to pass her on to Sartre. But Olga wasn’t really up for it. De Beauvoir was a lot better looking than Sartre, and taller, too. So began Sartre’s fixation on the first of the half-Russian Kosakiewicz sisters. Olga got into his plays; she got into his novels. But one thing he could never quite pull off was getting her into his bed. She resisted without ever entirely pushing him away. She was Sartre’s unattainable object of desire, the “transcendental signifier”, as their friend Jacques Lacan, the psychoanalyst, would have said. I think Sartre managed to interpret all his sexual frustration as good for his existential soul.

None of which stopped him from changing course when her younger sister, Wanda, arrived in Paris in 1937 and seducing her instead.

[   ]…This was Sartre at his least philosophical. He never really forgave Camus. Their final, very public divorce in the Fifties was politics, philosophy and personality all rolled into one. But at the end of 1944, Sartre wrote to the Beaver: “What did Wanda think she was doing, running after Camus? What did she want from him? Wasn’t I so much better? And so kind to her. She should watch out.” Sartre was trying to be ironic but he was, in fact, totally serious. He gladly took Wanda back again (amid countless other affairs). But perhaps Camus had their close encounter in mind when he wrote: “It is necessary to fall in love – the better to provide an alibi for all the despair we are going to feel anyway.” ( excerpts from The Boxer and the Goalkeeper by Andy Martin, published by Simon & Schuster)

As one might expect from two of the most prominent philosophers of existentialism, there was  a lot of angst, dread and rationalizing. That is the thing about lust and obsession, all the insightful intellectual thoughts become just so much baggage in the pursuit of desire. Though it still all reads much better and sounds more civilized than what you see on the average day-time talk show, with the audience bringing the punctuating  boos and cheers.

Melody Gardot – Your Heart is as Black as Night

Billie Holiday – I’m A Fool To Want You

 

 

the standard model, the blue window, drama and intrigue – The Killing

The Standard Model of particle physics, a description of how the universe works on subatomic scales is the one that is currently considered to be most accurate. Does knowing this model of what constitutes realty at its most fundamental level make any difference in what you’ll have for lunch today or what plans you’ll make for the weekend. If it affects one’s perception of reality at all it is probably, and somewhat ironically, through the use of one’s imagination. So if there are cracks in the Standard model as shown by examining the data from several years of study that directly relate to why there is a dominance of matter in the universe – you and your cat and your iPad are made of matter – rather than anti-matter in the universe – which is impossible to make you or your cat or your iPad out of. Physics at the theoretical level does not have much to do with how we routinely process the world. What we do not process by way of sights, sounds, taste, touch and emotional feelings is routed through the brain and what has the most impact is speech or it’s surrogate -writing. Looking through the lens of linguistics to discover what’s going on in our heads as we think and speak. A thought experiment from the link:

Joe jumped until the bell rang.
Joe jumped when the bell rang.

All the words are the same in both sentences except one. because of that one word difference, you did not have to bear down and think too much, you formed an almost instantaneous mental picture. In one instance jack was jumping up until a certain point. In the other jack did not jump until a specified instant. Why didn’t you go through the same process when you added 125 to 9, divided by 2 and multiplied by 3. The math problem required some conscious thought processes which most of us – Brilliant Minds the possible exception – to use rules we learned to parse an answer. The understanding of relatively simple language, the kind most of us use most of the time is processed intuitively. What paths are minds are using are automatic. At least that is what Ray Jackendoff thinks in A User’s Guide to Thought and Meaning (Oxford University Press). His observation holds up so much of the time that he – and Wittgenstein and many others who have studied linguistics – that it is probably one essential truth. yet that intuitive interpretation of verbal communication and neural processing also just as obvious does not hold up all the time. Have you ever said something and been misunderstood. Do you hear and understand something, repeat what you understand and your close friend says they did not get that same interpretation at all. You both heard the same thing. What happened.

the blue window

 

AMC’s The Killing has gone through several levels of understanding, misunderstanding and expectations. I was going to write a defense of this season. Though time being limited, thankfully I ran across this critique which says almost exactly what I was thinking, Shadow of a Doubt: Franz Kafka and TV’s ‘The Killing’

As the second season began, Goodman issued the show a stern warning. “By not revealing who killed Rosie Larsen in season one, this season could implode.” But in this same breath he complained that Veena Sud was compounding the problem by speaking out and directly assuring fans that the Larsen case would be solved by the end of season two. This creates a major suspense problem. “In the first 12 episodes, viewers will never believe a suspect is about to be revealed or that detectives closing in on a suspect in, say, episode seven, has any real relevancy. It certainly doesn’t make that storytelling immediately essential. Secondly, it’s telling viewers that they will be rewarded with a resolved mystery after 26 hours of television. If you see the appeal in any of this, please fire off a flare.”

Well, Tim, consider this my flare.

Think about it. How can we be upset when the truth is withheld just when we most expect it, and when someone promises that it will be delivered, right on time? But we in the audience always want to have it both ways: we want to have our expectations met, and at the same time, confounded. Novelist Elizabeth Bowen observed that “Story involves action[…] towards an end not to be forseen (by the reader) but also towards an end which, having been reached, must be seen to have been from the start inevitable.” Figuring how to get out of this double-bind has been the failing of many a writer. In all mediums, we reserve a large segment of our judgment until we see how well an entertainment ends. A great ending sends reverberations back through everything that transpired to reach it.

In the second season finale on Sunday night, The Killing achieved one of these great endings for the Larsen case. Sud kept her promise and revealed the truth about Rosie’s murder. The conclusion was satisfying, in that it did not satisfy. Rosie’s killing turned out to be caused by two different villains, one somewhat expected and the other utterly unexpected. In the end, these truths bring neither clarity nor comfort. Not to the Larsens or to the detectives. The truth behind Rosie’s killing turn out to be so meaningless and darkly ironic that we almost wish we didn’t know it.

I don’t care whether anyone else likes the show or what the ratings are. yet I am forced to care in a round about way because poor ratings will kill the show. One of the problems seems to be expectations. The people who seem most frustrated are the ones who see it as a mystery show. Period. If one sees it as mostly a drama with a mystery as a pretext to explore personalities, how people show different parts of themselves to different people, how everyone has some secret, some obsession, has some dysfunctional element to their personality. If you see the puzzle of how some people are attached to others, if you’re fascinated by how easily it is for anyone with power(official or personal) – mayors, business owners,  second lieutenants, police supervisors, parents, teens – to be morally and sometimes financially corrupted – and all the little skeletons that creates – than you see the constantly unfolding drama. The payoff, the solving of the mystery than becomes what he should be in the context of the show – a little prize at the bottom of the box. Those that want their crime solved in one or two episodes should be watching the six or so procedural that are on cable everyday. Those that prefer the standard procedural are not stupid or bad. Yet wanting  more of the same from another show is like wanting to get orange juice by squeezing a grapefruit. They have brought expectations to something that was never promised.  For them there is plenty of consolation. For those of us who want something new, complex, quirky, intrigue and not obsessed with instant payoffs, The Killing delivers pretty much as promised.

the black door

Anyone still interested in books – the bound paper kind – might find this interesting, Lions in Winter, Part One

Of the 5 million books held at the New York Public Library’s main building, only about 300,000 were requested last year. That means that the rest of them just sat around, taking up space in one of the most prized neighborhoods on the planet.

[  ]….The collection dates to the 1840s and 1870s, when the Astor Library and the Lenox Library, both privately supported, were founded in Manhattan; their earliest strengths were Americana and religious history. These libraries remained separate until the late 19th century, when former New York Governor Samuel Tilden died and left almost his entire estate “to found a free library and reading room” in New York. Tilden’s trustees developed a plan to use the bequest, plus the books and funds held by the two existing libraries, to persuade the city to construct a central building to house a single centralized research facility, a place on par with the much-envied British Museum.