whistle blowers and the media, mermaids and radical fundamentalists

macro summer flower wallpaper

macro summer flower wallpaper


Top Ten Ways the Beltway Press Will Treat Gen. Cartwright Differently from Snowden

NBC reports that Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright is under investigation as the source for David Sanger’s 2012 New York Times article revealing that the United States is behind the Stuxnet computer virus, which was used to infect computers at Iran’s Natanz nuclear enrichment facilities and at the Bushehr nuclear energy plants and delay their going hot.

No one will obsess about the exercise habits of Gen. Cartwright’s wife.
Gen. Cartwright will not be characterized as “a 63-year-old hacker.”
Gen. Cartwright will not be described as “nerdy” or “flaky.”
David Gregory will not ask that David Sanger be prosecuted for espionage because he aided and abetted Cartwright’s leaking.
We won’t get stories every day about where in McLean, Virginia, Gen. Cartwright is living.
Gen. Cartwright won’t be accused of being a spy for Iran.
No lurid stories will be rehearsed on the Sunday afternoon shows about Cartwright’s allegedly overly familiar relationship with a young female aide in 2009, with heavy innuendo as to what the episode said about his reckless character.
No FBI informants will be placed inside the elite Alfalfa Club in DC that Cartwright was known to attend.
Cartwright’s loyalty to the United States won’t be impugned by anchors or congressmen.
Dirt won’t be dug up on David Sanger’s private life in an attempt to discredit his reporting on Cartwright’s Stuxnet.

Regardless of what thinks about Mr. Snowden’s actions, the above is a strange facet of our media culture. While I disagree with with on a few things Noam Chomsky is right about how the media – that seems more Right of center than liberal or moderate – shapes and frames the news, thus how much of the public perceives events and people.

Mermaid by the sea ; woman by the sea

Mermaid by the sea ; woman by the sea. An illustration from Harper’s in  1877. I can barely read the text. Some of it is not very good poetry and some of it is humor. I thought of it after I read this story, Five reasons mermaids are impossible

The second is that were Nature somehow to fuse a fish butt onto a woman’s torso, how does said fusion creature make new creatures? Are mermaids parthenogens, mitotically producing new mermaids from some unseen orifice after being sown together from fish and people? You see, reproduction is a key element of being something that exists, that is alive. Animals gotta get it on, either with themselves or others of their species, to be here. An all-female human-fish mashup organism without sex bits, much less some way to lay an egg (fish style) or push out a baby (human style), isn’t gonna be able to do that. For a review, check out the comparative anatomy again. See?

One of those rare science articles that is fun to read. They wrote in in reply to a silly mermaid special on Animal Planet. They have so much silly stuff – mixed in with the good, on Animal Planet I would not have thought it worth bothering with. Though I do get that some people would seriously entertain the idea that half human-half fish creature could exist. And as long as we’re on the subject of a certain three letter word, Virginia Gov. Candidate Cuccinelli Asks Supreme Court to Revive Ban on Oral, Anal Sex.

But in 2004, when a bipartisan group of state Senators was trying to fix the sodomy law so that it would only apply to cases involving minors and non-consensual sex, Cuccinelli, then a state Senator, blocked the effort.

…As Mother Jones noted, some 90 percent of Americans would be felons if the Virginia law were to be applied nationally. Cuccinelli has remained mute as to whether he’s one of them.

We already put a lot of people in jail for spurious reasons, and do not put people in jail that might belong there. Perhaps some of us have a naive concept of what laws are for – to punish actions that hurt others. Ken Cuccinelli and his sycophantic followers think the law is about punishing people for doing things they find personally distasteful. That is a worm that can certainly turn. Many may find Ken’s bizarre and tyrannical politics distasteful.


duel after a masked ball, helper robots have emotional flaws

Duel after a Masked Ball

Duel after a Masked Ball by Jean-Leon Gerome (11 May 1824 – 10 January 1904). Oil on canvas, 1857).


Helper Robots Are Steered, Tentatively, to Care for the Aging

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed Cody, a robotic nurse the university says is “gentle enough to bathe elderly patients.” There is also HERB, which is short for Home Exploring Robot Butler. Made by researchers at Carnegie Mellon, it is designed to fetch household objects like cups and can even clean a kitchen. Hector, a robot that is being developed by the University of Reading in England, can remind patients to take their medicine, keep track of their eyeglasses and assist in the event of a fall.

That sounds like what I am hoping for. Progress towards an agile, artificially intelligent robot to help me in my old age. Though there are already ethical issues. People with neuro-degenerative diseases are using robots and are talking to them in the frequent absence of human care takers. That might look like tragic-comedy in a movie or novel, but real life is another matter. These people think the robots can understand and sympathize with what they are saying.

“I felt like this isn’t amazing; this is sad. We have been reduced to spectators of a conversation that has no meaning,” she said. “Giving old people robots to talk to is a dystopian view that is being classified as utopian.” Professor Turkle said robots did not have a capacity to listen or understand something personal, and tricking patients to think they can is unethical.

That’s the catch. Leaving the questions of ethics aside for a moment, building robots is not simply about creating smart machines; it is about making something that is not human still appear, somehow, trustworthy.

Even if the robot is trustworthy i terms of not hurting the person or damaging property, it will be a while before there are C-3PO, emotionally aware robots who understand the story about your grand children and shows something like genuine empathy. Otherwise we are just tricking the naive or sick that they have a real companion that can listen.

Monet in front of his paintings (The Waterlilies) in his studios

Monet in front of his paintings (The Waterlilies) in his studios. 1920. Gelatin silver print by Henri Manuel (1874-1947).

A Right-Wing Mole at ABC News Jonathan Karl and the success of the conservative media movement

After a stint at the New York Post, Karl soon found his way to CNN, but he was still connected to ideological pursuits; he was a board member at the right-leaning youth-oriented Third Millennium group and at the Madison Center for Educational Affairs—which, like the Collegiate Network, seeks to strengthen young conservative journalism. After moving to ABC in 2003, Karl contributed several pieces to the neo-con Weekly Standard, such as his April 4, 2005 article praising Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as out to “make her mark with the vigorous pursuit of the president’s freedom and democracy agenda.

Recently Karl and ABC News pushed that fake e-mail that suggested some kind of White House cover-up of Benghazi. Maybe not a coincidence that Karl did not do much in the way of verification before passing along a fake e-mail to the public as “news.”

writing like jazz, road less traveled wallpaper, brains and responsibility

The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac forged a voice that has come to be appreciated as a landmark literary invention in American letters. Its elements are ecstasy arising from misery (like Thomas Wolfe), catalogues of desire (think Whitman and Melville), and Kerouac’s very own technique of reaching rock bottom before emerging with a recreated world in his hands:

I was delirious . . . hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiancies shining in bright Mind Essence, innumerable lotus-lands falling open in the magic mothswarm of heaven . . . I felt sweet, swinging bliss, like a big shot of heroin in the mainline vein; like a gulp of wine late in the afternoon and it makes you shudder; my feet tingled. I thought I was going to die the very next moment. But I didn’t die, and walked four miles and picked up ten long butts and took them back to Marylou’s hotel room and poured their tobacco in my old pipe and lit up. I was too young to know what had happened.

His is a voice like no other: musical in the variations-on-a-theme style of Bebop virtuosi (Kerouac’s actual jazz writings, alone, would put him in that pantheon)..

Putting together, melding the rhythm of jazz and still being very exacting about meaning, getting the substance to agree with the style was/is truly remarkable. To just put words together to convey thoughts, every sentence like an equation is difficult enough.

the road less traveled wallpaper

Endangered Tattoos: Volunteers Get Inked to Help Save Species [Slide Show].


Did Your Brain Make You Do It?

ARE you responsible for your behavior if your brain “made you do it”?

Often we think not. For example, research now suggests that the brain’s frontal lobes, which are crucial for self-control, are not yet mature in adolescents. This finding has helped shape attitudes about whether young people are fully responsible for their actions. In 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for juveniles was unconstitutional, its decision explicitly took into consideration that “parts of the brain involved in behavior control continue to mature through late adolescence.”

A brain characteristic that was even weakly associated with violence led people to exonerate the protagonist more than a psychological factor that was strongly associated with violent acts. Moreover, the participants in our study were much more likely, given a protagonist with a brain characteristic, to view the behavior as “automatic” rather than “motivated,” and to view the behavior as unrelated to the protagonist’s character. The participants described the protagonists with brain characteristics in ways that suggested that the “true” person was not at the helm of himself. The behavior was caused, not intended.

In contrast, while psychologically damaging experiences like childhood abuse often elicited sympathy for the protagonist and sometimes even prompted considerable mitigation of blame, the participants still saw the protagonist’s behavior as intentional. The protagonist himself was twisted by his history of trauma; it wasn’t just his brain. Most participants felt that in such cases, personal character remained relevant in determining how the protagonist went on to act.

I wonder at people’s tendency to not be able to associate harm done from a distance – removed by actual geography or income or social status – and the effect that harm has on their lives. They certainly get being knocked own and their watch smart phone stolen. The latter can have devastating consequences – the victim feeling violated. They might feel unsafe for months or even years. Yet three states or a continent away, some very wealthy men in a room determine public policy, the way they think capitalism should be structured that can take way tens of thousands of dollars over their lifetime. Diminish their quality of life. Make their cities into urban dystopias and towns more toxic. Cause disease directly or through stress, and yet reward those same thieves in silk ties and white shirts by voting for policies that perpetuate the things they say they find most disturbing about modern life. This inability to make connections between cause and effect, or built in denial mechanisms, seems to complicate the ability to assign credit or blame, and see cause and effect.

kirk douglas as vincent van gogh on the set of Lust for Life,1956. The movie was based on a fictionalized novel about Van Gogh by Irving Stone. Overall a pretty good movie, though a little overwrought. “No one has called any of my pictures obscene ever but I have been constantly blamed for an even greater sin — the ugliness.” Vincent Van Gogh.

elizabeth taylor on the set of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958. The movie was based on the play by Tennessee Williams. Taylor played Maggie the Cat. Lots of heated melodrama about death, inheritance, marriage, repressed homosexuality, family loyalty, addictions and delusions. Maggie ( Elizabeth Taylor): “Truth! Truth! Everybody keeps hollerin’ about the truth. Well, the truth is as dirty as lies.”

when you write you make a unique physical something, black and white flower, bain and disempowering workers

The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting, and Why it Still Matters

It is the pleasure of handwriting that Philip Hensher sets out to evoke – the strange, even mysterious pleasure of it, the thing about it that makes me, for example, discover in detail what I feel about something only when I begin to see the words for it appearing on paper, written by my hand. I wish he had been here yesterday, when I was describing his book to a friend of mine who is in his very early twenties and was incredulous when I told him about schools not teaching handwriting. ‘But when you type the letter A,’ he said, ‘you just press a button and an A appears. When you write it’ – and he traced an A in the air – ‘you are making it’. Surely Hensher, like me, would have seen a glimmer of hope in that reaction from a person so young.

The full review of The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting, and Why it Still Matters By Philip Hensher (Macmillan) is at the link. Things change. If we’re worse off because we do not write or cave walls anymore it is impossible to tell. I used a typewriter for a few years during college – it was a semi-word processor, able to hold some memory. I was struggling financially and one of my relatives let me use it. While grateful at the time, I can’t say I miss it. I know how to write in cursive, but usually use block point, to make sure the short note I write can be read. There is a lot to be said for writing long works/projects on paper with a comfortable ink pen with cursive. Sometimes the best thing about what I wrote is the letters I created. The substance usually is not awful, but the writing doesn’t improve regardless of the medium used to produce it. One other great thing about writing, the actual physical act of creating marks on paper is that paper is not indestructible, but it doesn’t crash.

black and white flower with grain

Interesting insights into children and how they perceive how the world actually works – Educating jurors about science may have no effect. There was a recent article that claimed that surreptitious beliefs about how life on earth evolved had an advantage because children found otherworldly explanations more intuitive. This study found almost the opposite. Children are not mystically centered by nature. On the contrary, the tendency to have unjustified beliefs grows with age,

Generally, we think of children as having more supernatural beliefs. As they age and gain education and information (as well as brain development) they abandon the supernatural for science. Right? Apparently not. These researchers show that we retain both supernatural and scientific ideas–flexibly combining or interchanging them to explain various events.

For example, “a person might explain AIDS using witchcraft in one instance, biology in another, or combine the two in a third instance”. Indeed, say the researchers, the tendency to invoke the supernatural explanation increases with age rather than decreases!

One of our favorite examples of this comes from some work we did in East Texas last year where an older white female mock juror [who happened to be a school teacher] described a popular social networking site as “the devil’s work”. The grins in the observation room quickly faded and jaws dropped as we saw numerous other mock jurors nodding grimly. She was a school teacher. None of them appeared to be kidding.

It is common for mature adults to combine rational knowledge with irrational beliefs. Especially when corned in an discussion, they will have a tendency to reach for any available bits in their base of knowledge for ways to explain what, how and why they think something is true.

carolina wren

World’s Oldest Known Auschwitz Survivor Has Died

Antoni Dobrowolski, a former Polish teacher arrested by the Gestapo in 1942 for teaching underground lessons to students, died on Sunday at the age of 108, according to a Polish official speaking with the Associated Press. He was the oldest known survivor of Germany’s largest death camp.

Banning elementary education beyond four years was one of many tactics employed by Nazi Germany after its invasion of Poland in 1939—a strategy aimed at undermining Polish culture and wiping out its intelligentsia and leadership class. A spokesman at the Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum told the AP Dobrowolski died in the northwester town of Debno.

Not the the most original insight, but of the very radical political movements that began at the beginning of the 20th century, they all, far right and left, shared a suspicious and frequent contempt for education.

Inside Romney Bain’s Chinese Sensata Factories, Where Workers Put in 12-Hour Days for $.99-$1.35 an Hour. The conservative movement must admire communists to some extent since they seem to love the idea of workers as unquestioning low paid drones. Mitt Romney talks a lot about jobs. But does he have a plan to create any?

This thumbnail photo is from this fascinating collection – Pictures from a Drawer 1915 – 1940.

Russia sends Pussy Riot women to camps east of Moscow.

psychics and income myths, the physical precedes the metaphysical, the last big tree

depression era psychic readings, photograph by russell lee. difficult to see in the thumbnail, but it says all “readers” are certified. Certified in what by whom exactly. Was there an actual psychic reading institute that made sure everyone could tell the future. How did they test that exactly. Did certification mean that members were held to higher standards of supernatural insight than non-certified psychics. Did they have to buy malpractice insurance – for say instances where someone was advised to marry and the marriage turned out badly. Russell Lee was trained as a chemists, but because of the lack of work during the depression he went to work in 1936 as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration documentation project.

It is amazing the things people will believe, like the myths about income and who earns what and why. The Best Reasons for the Very Rich to be Paying a Lot More in Taxes

Before getting into the best reason, here are some of the usual — and always good — reasons. First of all, for every dollar the richest 1% earned in 1980, they’ve added three more dollars. The poorest 90% have added ONE CENT.

The richest million families have not worked three times (let alone 300 times) harder than the other 99 million families.

The richest 10% own 80% of the stock market, providing billions in “unearned income” that is taxed at less than half the rate of income earned through real work. The richest million families may have actually worked LESS than the other 99 million families.

A number of individuals have had one-year incomes over a billion dollars, enough to pay the salaries of 25,000 teachers or health care workers or emergency responders. It’s questionable whether a guy who makes a billion betting on a mortgage collapse is worth even one teacher or health care worker or emergency responder.

Massive inequality in wages is not the only issue wrapped up in wage disparity. The very wealthy and their apologists – inexplicably many of whom are much further down the economic ladder –  are not living up to the social contract that makes the middle-class possible.

The super-rich like to believe their own initiative and creativity have been the primary drivers of growth in technology and science and business and medicine. Some innovative business leaders deserve credit for putting the pieces together on specific initiatives. But the pieces themselves were put together over many years by thousands of less conspicuous people. As Elizabeth Warren said, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.”

Consider just a simple communications device. The pieces were put together by a procession of chemists, physicists, chip designers, programmers, engineers, production-line workers, market analysts, testers, troubleshooters, etc., etc. They, in turn, couldn’t have succeeded without another layer of people providing sustenance and medical support and security and administrative assistance and transportation and office maintenance for the technologists. ALL of them contributed to the final product.

You say a lot of them DID get paid? Well, then, something’s wrong, because few of the profits over the last 30 years went to this “middle class” of people to keep them financially secure, and to keep them educated in all the new technologies that are replacing their jobs.

The long-term dependency on the supporting members of society is the best reason for the most fortunate among us to care about everyone else. Sadly, research suggests that wealthy people have less empathy for people unlike themselves, because they no longer have reason to associate with them.

country road, old trees

the last big tree

Depending on how one processes information, this might be enough to make one give up blogging – Jane Austen by name, Badass Hipster Rebel by Nature

By the time Jane Austen reached 23 years of age, she had accomplished many things. This includes writing some short works known as her Juvenilia, working on the first draft of ‘Elinor and Marianne’, that was later to become Sense and Sensibility, and the first draft of ‘First Impressions’ that was later to become Pride and Prejudice, and she also managed to complete her novel ‘Susan’ that was to be published after her death as Northanger Abbey.

By the time I was 23 I worked an average of 12 hours a day. I did a lot and what I accomplished were the kinds of things that paid the rent, the utilities and food. That is generally what modern civilization has brought us – the capacity to have lives that are relatively comfortable – yet lacking frequently in genuine accomplishment. Which is one of the reasons that a certain kind of envy is an undeserved self-inflicted kick in the ass. In Northanger Abbey, Austen used her considerable talents to focus on, not envy of the very wealthy, but how much so many of them prided themselves on their shallow understanding of humanity, all the while dropping hints about how well read they were. It was one thing to read, another to understand. Austen would probably still be read today if she was a little more shallow just for the mastery of prose, but she used her talents to show us the world the way it was beneath the veneer.

polaroids walking madison lane

Neuroscience and philosophy must work together Theories of consciousness are challenged by recent research into the impact of brain function on the sense of self

Human beings are part of nature. They are made of flesh and blood, brain and bone; but for much of the time they are also conscious. The puzzling thing is how the intricate sequences of nerve cells and tissue that make up a person’s brain and body can generate the special subjective feel of conscious experience.

Consciousness creates, in each of us, an inner life where we think and feel; a realm where we experience the sights, sounds, feels, tastes and smells that inform us of the world around us.

To many philosophers the central problem of consciousness is, how can the facts of conscious mental life be part of the world of facts described by the natural sciences?

[  ]…There may be no single answer to what consciousness is, but we may still be able to find ways to explain what is going on in the brain. This would help resolve why our conscious experience takes the shape and form it does, and elucidate what happens to consciousness when one of the interacting systems that make possible the self-knowing mind breaks down.

I generally liked this article – it was written by a philosopher, but he stays mostly with the science of consciousness. He thinks and has a passion for the subject, which is further than many people are willing to go. I wish that he would do one thing. Rather than back-up and reevaluate, use this mysterious consciousness to flash forward to his death. At that point there will be no consciousness. All the atoms he is of which he is made – as well as you and I – came from the universe, lots of carbon with some hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and some traces of other elements. According to quantum mechanics – the part that seems to be holding up fairly well, the matter we’re composed of mostly consists of light. The physical us will once again return to – eventually – the unbound atoms that made us in the first place. Though there will be no human consciousness. Since there is no consciousness without physical being. Our consciousness, however mysterious it may be, is firmly rooted in the real world of biology and physics – how macromolecules work together to generate experience and knowledge of self. We might, and I tend to feel we do, need philosophers to help us sort out things like applied ethics, logic and art, but not consciousness.

Bird – The Whole World Knows

Off Bird’s debut album ‘La Notte’