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"I am the world crier, & this is my dangerous career...

I am the one to call your bluff, & this is my climate."

—Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972)

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Follow Me Here… 

Please Follow Me Here…. The URL of FmH is changing to http://followmehere.com. The current page will not be updating any longer; please change your bookmarks and spread the word. Thanks for your continued readership... and please let me know what you think of the new site.


Why White Supremacists Support Barack Obama 

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Aesthetics & Astronomy 

Original caption:
"This survey will study your perception of multi-wavelength astronomical imagery and the effects of the scientific and artistic choices in processing astronomical data. The images come from a variety of space and ground-based observatories, including the Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope, the Very Large Array, the Hinode satellite, and many others. Evaluation of such valuable data will benefit astronomy across the electromagnetic spectrum of astronomical images, and may help visualization of data in other scientific disciplines." (Astroart @ Harvard via abby)


Evidence for 'Global Superorganism' 

Kevin Kelly
Kevin Kelly : "So far the proposition that a global superorganism is forming along the internet power lines has been treated as a lyrical metaphor at best, and as a mystical illusion at worst. I've decided to treat the idea of a global superorganism seriously, and to see if I could muster a falsifiable claim and evidence for its emergence." (The Technium)


US crossing more borders in terror war 

love thy neighbor'It could be morally justifiable, legally justifiable, and strategically a mistake...' (CSM)


Vintage Pics Capture 'Halloween in the Time of Cholera' 

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"An obsessive-compulsive collector shares his fascination with vintage Halloween photographs, using Flickr to impart these haunting images.

'My theme is 'Halloween in the Time of Cholera,'' collector Steven Martin told Wired.com in an e-mail interview. 'The idea being that people back then were probably on a more intimate level with death — and that would have affected the way they celebrated Halloween.'"


Attorney's Ties to Harvard Go Up in Smoke 

BOS_010 Harvard Law School
'We've seen lawyers' careers go up in smoke before, but never quite so literally. "Jack" is a Washington, D.C., lawyer who hopes someday to be to the legal profession what Siddhartha was to Buddhism -- one remembered for giving up a life of luxury to pursue the path of simplicity. Unlike Buddha, Jack has a blog, "Adventures in Voluntary Simplicity," where he anonymously chronicles his self-charted conversion from highly paid lawyer to pilgrim of simple happiness. It all started last June, when Jack took a vow: "stop living a life of excess, materialism, and unnecessary stress in order to gain something much more valuable: unencumbered, simple happiness." Out would go his job at a large law firm. Out would go his $300,000-plus annual salary. Out would go his newly renovated, four-level townhouse. Out would go his mix of expensive antique and modern furniture. At least that was the plan, yet to be executed.

"But one vestige of his yet-to-be-past self nagged at him -- his Harvard Law School diploma. It stood, a symbolic barrier, between him and freedom. "Sometimes," he decided, "you just need to say goodbye to your past in order to move forward." So goodbye he said, in much the same way that a spurned spouse says goodbye to memories of a former lover. He set it on fire.

Not only did he incinerate his Harvard degree, but he captured the conflagration on video, describing it on his blog and posting it to YouTube. "In the end," he writes, "it was just a piece of paper. Nothing more. I would rather live my life on my own terms than be a person that needs a piece of paper to justify their own worth." I suspect a few folks in Harvard's alumni-development office will be hot under the collar when they see Jack's video. But one lesson every Harvard Law grad can learn from watching Jack's act of career-defiance is that these things are not all that easy to burn.' (Legal Blog Watch)


Are we all Keynsians now? 

We now face Keynesian conditions and need truly Keynesian solutions: "...Two weeks ago, I invoked the ghost of Keynes and there has recently been a flood of references to him, most especially from the Chancellor.

This has raised a hornets' nest of controversy, with people holding forth with much sound and fury – and often signifying nothing. So I want to ask what, if anything, the teaching of this long-dead economist has to offer us today.

John Maynard Keynes, born in 1883, died in 1946; present at the Versailles negotiations in 1919; Britain's representative at the Bretton Woods conference in 1944; father of the two key institutions of the post–war monetary order, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank; author of The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money; and, most importantly, the origin of the adjective "Keynesian".

This is a word which has all but lost its original meaning. Like fascist, or feminist, it began describing a set of beliefs, but it has become a term of abuse or approbation, wielded by those who have, for the most part, not the faintest idea of what it actually means. So I want to give my version of "Everything you wanted to know about Keynes and were afraid to ask." I think I can reduce Keynes' view to seven essential propositions..." (Telegraph.UK<)


What Just Happened? 

A graphic representation of the four phases in...
"The emergency continues, a little less desperate than before. A remedy that works – direct government investment in threatened institutions in exchange for equity – seems to have been settled on in most industrial democracies.

A number of mysteries remain." (Economic Principals)


Smaller US banks fear predators armed with bail-out money 

"America's smaller banks are claiming they could be vulnerable to government-funded predatory takeovers as their larger rivals enjoy huge cash injections from a $250bn Treasury bail-out." (Guardian.UK)


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Samhain 

Lucifer, the main protagonist of Paradise Lost...A reprise of my annual Halloween post:

It is that time of year again. What has become a time of disinhibited hijinx and mayhem, and a growing marketing bonanza for the kitsch-manufacturers and -importers, has primeval origins as the Celtic New Year's Eve, Samhain (pronounced "sow-en"). The harvest is over, summer ends and winter begins, the Old God dies and returns to the Land of the Dead to await his rebirth at Yule, and the land is cast into darkness. The veil separating the worlds of the living and the dead becomes frayed and thin, and dispossessed dead mingle with the living, perhaps seeking a body to possess for the next year as their only chance to remain connected with the living, who hope to scare them away with ghoulish costumes and behavior, escape their menace by masquerading as one of them, or placate them with offerings of food, in hopes that they will go away before the new year comes. For those prepared, a journey to the other side could be made at this time. It is fortunate that Hallowe'en falls on a Friday this year, as there is evidence that the pagan festival was celebrated for three days.

With Christianity, perhaps because with calendar reform it was no longer the last day of the year, All Hallows' Eve became decathected, a day for innocent masquerading and fun, taking its name Hallowe'en as a contraction and corruption of All Hallows' Eve. All Saints' Day may have originated in its modern form with the 8th century Pope Gregory III. Hallowe'en customs reputedly came to the New World with the Irish immigrants of the 1840's. The prominence of trick-or-treating has a slightly different origin, however.

The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes," made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul's passage to heaven.

Jack-o'-lanterns were reportedly originally turnips; the Irish began using pumpkins after they immigrated to North AMerica, given how plentiful they were here.

The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree's trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.

Folk traditions that were in the past associated wtih All Hallows' Eve took much of their power, as with the New Year's customs about which I write here every Dec. 31st, from the magic of boundary states, transition and liminality.

The idea behind ducking, dooking or bobbing for apples seems to have been that snatching a bite from the apple enables the person to grasp good fortune. Samhain is a time for getting rid of weakness, as pagans once slaughtered weak animals which were unlikely to survive the winter. A common ritual calls for writing down weaknesses on a piece of paper or parchment, and tossing it into the fire. There used to be a custom of placing a stone in the hot ashes of the bonfire. If in the morning a person found that the stone had been removed or had cracked, it was a sign of bad fortune. Nuts have been used for divination: whether they burned quietly or exploded indicated good or bad luck. Peeling an apple and throwing the peel over one's shoulder was supposed to reveal the initial of one's future spouse. One way of looking for omens of death was for peope to visit churchyards

The Witches' Sabbath aspect of Hallowe'en seems to result from Germanic influence, and fusion with the notion of Walpurgisnacht. (Who knows the magnificent musical evocation of this, Mussorgsky's Night on Bare Mountain?) Although probably not yet in a position to shape mainstream American Hallowe'en traditions, Mexican Dia de los Muertos observances have started to contribute some delightful and whimsical iconography to our encounter with the eerie and unearthly as well.

What was Hallowe'en like forty or fifty years ago in the U.S. when, bastardized as it has become with respect to its pagan origins, it retained a much more traditional flair? For my purposes, suffice it to say that it was before the era of the pay-per-view 'spooky-world' type haunted attractions and its Martha Stewart yuppification with, as this irreverent Salon article from last year [via walker] puts it, monogrammed jack-o'-lanterns and the like. Related, a 1984 essay by Richard Seltzer, frequently referenced in other sources, entitled "Why Bother to Save Halloween?", argues as I do that reverence for Halowe'en is good for the soul.

"Maybe at one time Halloween helped exorcise fears of death and ghosts and goblins by making fun of them. Maybe, too, in a time of rigidly prescribed social behavior, Halloween was the occasion for socially condoned mischief -- a time for misrule and letting loose. Although such elements still remain, the emphasis has shifted and the importance of the day and its rituals has actually grown.

...(D)on't just abandon a tradition that you yourself loved as a child, that your own children look forward to months in advance, and that helps preserve our sense of fellowship and community with our neighbors in the midst of all this madness."

That would be anathema to certain segments of society, however. Halloween certainly inspires a backlash by fundamentalists who consider it a blasphemous abomination. 'Amateur scholar' Isaac Bonewits details academically the Halloween errors and lies he feels contribute to its being reviled. Some of the panic over Hallowe'en is akin to the hysteria, fortunately now debunked, over the supposed epidemic of 'ritual Satanic abuse' that swept the Western world in the '90's.

The horror film has become inextricably linked to Hallowe'en tradition, although the holiday itself did not figure in the movies until John Carpenter took the slasher genre singlehandedly by storm. Googling "scariest films", you will, grimly, reap a mother lode of opinions about how to pierce the veil to journey to the netherworld and reconnect with that magical, eerie creepiness in the dark (if not the over-the-top blood and gore that has largely replaced the subtlety of earlier horror films).

In any case: trick or treat!


Nikon Small World Gallery 

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I've blinked to this before, in prior years. These are this year's winning microphotographs in Nikon's annual contest. Stunningly beautiful and revelatory.


R.I.P. Merl Saunders 

Jazz and Rock Keyboardist Dies at 74: "Mr. Saunders made some of his most notable music in the 1960s and ’70s when he teamed up with Garcia, the Grateful Dead’s lead guitarist and singer. The Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders Band recorded two albums in the 1970s, and the two played together on an array of projects until Garcia’s death in 1995." (New York Times obituary)


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why the October Surprise isn't what it used to be 

A macro of a piece of slate. It is about 2 ˝ i..."Have you heard the latest stunning, mildly interesting revelation?" (Slate)


Palintology will dominate the post-mortems 

"Republican infighting has already begun and the person and politics of Sarah Palin are at the heart of the feuding" — Gerard Baker (Times.UK opinion)


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

News Orgs Investigate Possibly Fatal McCain '64 Car Crash 

"For the past two months, a major American magazine and an allied news service have been engaged in a legal battle with the United States Navy over records that they believe show that John McCain once was involved in an automobile accident that injured or, perhaps, killed another individual.

Vanity Fair magazine and the National Security News Service claim to have knowledge "developed from first-hand sources" of a car crash that involved then-Lt. McCain at the main gate of a Virginia naval base in 1964, according to legal filings. The incident has been largely, if not entirely, kept from the public. And in documents suing the Navy to release pertinent information, lawyers for the NS News Service allege that a cover-up may be at play." — Sam Stein (Huffington Post)


Halloween Sky Show 

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"Stop! Take your finger off that doorbell. Something spooky is happening behind your back. Turn around, tip back your mask, and behold the sunset.

It's a Halloween sky show.

On Oct. 31st, the crescent Moon will sneak up on Venus for a close encounter of startling beauty. The gathering is best seen just after sunset when the twilight is pumpkin-orange and Halloween doorbells are chiming in earnest. Venus hovers just above the southwestern horizon, the brightest light in the sky, while the exquisitely slender Moon approaches just a few degrees below..." (NASA)


Never Say Die: 

Why Can't We Imagine Death? "The common view of death as a great mystery usually is brushed aside as an emotionally fueled desire to believe that death isn't the end of the road. And indeed, a prominent school of research in social psychology called terror management theory contends that afterlife beliefs, as well as less obvious beliefs, behaviors and attitudes, exist to assuage what would otherwise be crippling anxiety about the ego's inexistence.

According to proponents, you possess a secret arsenal of psychological defenses designed to keep your death anxiety at bay (and to keep you from ending up in the fetal position listening to Nick Drake on your iPod). My writing this article, for example, would be interpreted as an exercise in "symbolic immortality"; terror management theorists would likely tell you that I wrote it for posterity, to enable a concrete set of my ephemeral ideas to outlive me, the biological organism. (I would tell you that I'd be happy enough if a year from now it still had a faint pulse.)

Yet a small number of researchers, including me, are increasingly arguing that the evolution of self-consciousness has posed a different kind of problem altogether. This position holds that our ancestors suffered the unshakable illusion that their minds were immortal, and it's this hiccup of gross irrationality that we have unmistakably inherited from them. Individual human beings, by virtue of their evolved cognitive architecture, had trouble conceptualizing their own psychological inexistence from the start." (Scientific American Mind)


Are You Evil? Profiling That Which is Truly Wicked 

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"I thought it would be interesting to come up with formal structures that define evil, and, ultimately, to create a purely evil character the way a creative writer would..."

"The hallowed halls of academia are not the place you would expect to find someone obsessed with evil (although some students might disagree). But it is indeed evil—or rather trying to get to the roots of evil—that fascinates Selmer Bringsjord, a logician, philosopher and chairman of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Department of Cognitive Science here. He's so intrigued, in fact, that he has developed a sort of checklist for determining whether someone is demonic, and is working with a team of graduate students to create a computerized representation of a purely sinister person." (Scientific American)
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Five Fallacies of Grief 

Debunking Psychological Stages: "Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

So annealed into pop culture are the five stages of grief—introduced in the 1960s by Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross based on her studies of the emotional state of dying patients—that they are regularly referenced without explication.

There appears to be no evidence, however, that most people most of the time go through most of the stages in this or any other order. According to Russell P. Friedman, executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute in Sherman Oaks, Calif. (www.grief-recovery.com), and co-author, with John W. James, of The Grief Recovery Handbook (HarperCollins, 1998), “no study has ever established that stages of grief actually exist, and what are defined as such can’t be called stages. Grief is the normal and natural emotional response to loss.... No matter how much people want to create simple, bullet-point guidelines for the human emotions of grief, there are no stages of grief that fit any two people or relationships.”" (Scientific American)


How these gibbering numbskulls came to dominate Washington 

Peter Sellers as President Merkin Muffley in Dr.Peter Sellers as President Merkin Muffley
"The degradation of intelligence and learning in American politics results from a series of interlocking tragedies..."

How did politics in the US come to be dominated by people who make a virtue out of ignorance? Was it charity that has permitted mankind's closest living relative to spend two terms as president? How did Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle and other such gibbering numbskulls get to where they are? How could Republican rallies in 2008 be drowned out by screaming ignoramuses insisting that Barack Obama was a Muslim and a terrorist?

Like most people on my side of the Atlantic, I have for many years been mystified by American politics. The US has the world's best universities and attracts the world's finest minds. It dominates discoveries in science and medicine. Its wealth and power depend on the application of knowledge. Yet, uniquely among the developed nations (with the possible exception of Australia), learning is a grave political disadvantage.

There have been exceptions over the past century - Franklin Roosevelt, JF Kennedy and Bill Clinton tempered their intellectualism with the common touch and survived - but Adlai Stevenson, Al Gore and John Kerry were successfully tarred by their opponents as members of a cerebral elite (as if this were not a qualification for the presidency). Perhaps the defining moment in the collapse of intelligent politics was Ronald Reagan's response to Jimmy Carter during the 1980 presidential debate. Carter - stumbling a little, using long words - carefully enumerated the benefits of national health insurance. Reagan smiled and said: "There you go again." His own health programme would have appalled most Americans, had he explained it as carefully as Carter had done, but he had found a formula for avoiding tough political issues and making his opponents look like wonks." — George Monbiot (Guardian.UK)


People in the Middle... 

...for Obama. An Errol Morris ad featuring Republicans who are going with Obama. Spread it around, please, especially where it will be seen by "people in the middle."

(thanks, abby)



In Case You Weren't Scared Enough: 

Drosophila melanogaster mutation: yellow cross...
Palin on "Fruit Fly Research": "Here's the excerpt from the speech:

"Where does a lot of that earmark money end up, anyway? [...] You've heard about, um, these -- some of these pet projects they really don't make a whole lot of sense, and sometimes these dollars they go to projects having little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not!"

It's hard to know where to begin deconstructing this statement. This was a speech on autism, and Palin's critics have pounced on the fact that a recent study of Drosophila fruit flies showed that a protein called neurexin is essential for proper neurological function -- a discovery with clear implications for autism research.

Awkward! But this critique merely scrapes icing off the cake.

Fruit flies are more than just the occasional vehicles for research relevant to human disabilities. They are literally the foundation of modern genetics, the original model organism that has enabled us to discover so much of what we know about heredity, genome structure, congenital disorders, and (yes) evolution. So for Palin to state that "fruit fly research" has "little or nothing to do with the public good" is not just wrong -- it's mind-boggling.

What else does this blunder say about Palin and her candidacy? Many people have used it as just another opportunity to call her a dummy, since anyone who has stayed awake through even a portion of a high-school-level biology class knows what fruit flies are good for. But leave that aside for a second. Watch the clip. Listen to the tone of her voice as she sneers the words "fruit fly research." Check out the disdain and incredulity on her face. How would science, basic or applied, fare under President Palin?

We have other questions. Who wrote this speech? Was he or she as ignorant as Palin about the central role that fruit flies have played in the last century of biomedical research? Or was this a calculated slight to science and scientists -- a coded way of saying, "We don't care what you know or what you think"? We find it odd that, of all the examples of dubious expenditures of public funds, the speechwriters alighted on this one." — Palmer and Pringle (HuffPo)


The Dream Team 

Foreign Policy asks ten thinkers to suggest the best cabinet picks for the next president.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Is the Dalai Lama About to Give Up on China? 

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"...That's what the 73-year-old exiled Tibetan spiritual leader appeared to indicate during an Oct. 25 speech in his exile home of Dharamsala in northern India.

...it appears that after decades of fruitless negotiations with Beijing as part of an attempt to gain some concessions for his homeland, the 15th Dalai Lama may have finally reached the end of his tether." (Time)


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