Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Anti-Binge Drinking Pill

Daily Mail:
A new pill could stop binge-drinking habits in just days.

The drug, called naltrexone, has been shown to halve the amount people drink and cut the number of heavy drinking sessions by 70 per cent after 12 weeks.

It is thought to work on brain chemicals, reducing the craving for alcohol and making users feel they have drunk enough..

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Trolls Among Us

Good NYT feature on the history of internet trolls:
One afternoon in the spring of 2006, for reasons unknown to those who knew him, Mitchell Henderson, a seventh grader from Rochester, Minn., took a .22-caliber rifle down from a shelf in his parents’ bedroom closet and shot himself in the head. The next morning, Mitchell’s school assembled in the gym to begin mourning. His classmates created a virtual memorial on MySpace and garlanded it with remembrances. One wrote that Mitchell was “an hero to take that shot, to leave us all behind. God do we wish we could take it back... ” Someone e-mailed a clipping of Mitchell’s newspaper obituary to MyDeathSpace.com, a Web site that links to the MySpace pages of the dead. From MyDeathSpace, Mitchell’s page came to the attention of an Internet message board known as /b/ and the “trolls,” as they have come to be called, who dwell there...
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Bacon Alarm Clock

"wakes you up with the smell of real cooked bacon"

The Growth Solution

Carl Schramm & Robert Litan, in the current issue of The American argue for a new entrepreneurial agenda. Excerpt:
By the policies they champion, our future presidents can have an important impact on how rapidly our economy grows. Continued growth in per capita incomes, generated through ongoing improvements in productivity, is what drives improvements in living standards. Faster growth also will give us more resources to address each of our major domestic and foreign policy challenges.

Of course, government does not generate growth. But the private sector’s success, and thus the pace at which the economy advances, depends heavily on the rules, incentives, and basic infrastructure that government sets and provides..

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Kevin Myers follows up his controversial article

John Derbyshire comments on the trouble Irish journalist Kevin Myers has courted from the totalitarian PC establishment, over his controversial article Africa Is Giving Nothing to Anyone - Apart from AIDS

Myers has now written a follow up

excerpt:
We did more in Ethiopia a quarter of a century ago than just rescue children from terrible death through starvation: we also saved an evil, misogynistic and dysfunctional social system. Presuming that half the existing population (say, 17 million) of the mid 1980s is now dead through non-famine causes, the total added population from that time is some 60 million, around half of them female.

That is, Ethiopia has effectively gained the entire population of the United Kingdom since the famine. But at least 80pc of Ethiopian girls are circumcised, meaning that no less than 24 million girls suffered this fate, usually without anaesthetics or antiseptic. The UN estimates that 12pc of girls die through septicaemia, spinal convulsions, trauma and blood-loss after circumcision which probably means that around three million little Ethiopian girls have been butchered since the famine -- roughly the same as the number of Jewish women who died in the Holocaust...

Politically Correct Britain

Jonah Goldberg has a single week's roundup:

Okay, toddlers who don't like foreign food are racists. Non-Muslim kids who won't kneed to Allah are bigots. Tall shrubs for gay swingers are a civil right. And Al Qaeda's "Ambassador in Europe" lives in a million and half dollar house and enjoys nearly $100K in government benefits.

That whirring sound you hear is Winston Churchill in his grave.

Not Even Wrong

String theory sceptic, Peter Woit discusses, among other subjects, his controversial book on the science of String Theory, Not Even Wrong

A Monkey Business

James Robertson reviews David Boyd Haycock's latest book A Monkey Business, about the history of man's quest for immortality

‘To philosophise,’ Montaigne once wrote, ‘is to learn to die.’ He was paraphrasing Cicero and making an ancient point — only by leading examined lives can we reconcile ourselves to the inevitability of our deaths. The legendary sanguinity of philosophers such as Socrates and Epicurus on their deathbeds seems to bear witness to the truth of the aphorism. In Mortal Coil, however, David Boyd Haycock has written a compelling history of man’s scientific search for longer life, one that reminds us of the many enlightened minds who wanted more than the consolations of philosophy...
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Best Movie Endings Ever

According to Times Online

Microwave Ray Gun

New Scientist:

A US company claims it is ready to build a microwave ray gun able to beam sounds directly into people's heads.

The device – dubbed MEDUSA (Mob Excess Deterrent Using Silent Audio) – exploits the microwave audio effect, in which short microwave pulses rapidly heat tissue, causing a shockwave inside the skull that can be detected by the ears. A series of pulses can be transmitted to produce recognisable sounds.

The device is aimed for military or crowd-control applications, but may have other uses...

Kierkegaard's Either/Or

Nigel Warburton has resumed his podcasting of his book Philosophy: The Classics, with a chapter which featured in later editions only, on Kierkegaard's Either/Or.

The Forsaken

Sunday Times review of The Forsaken: From the Great Depression to the Gulags by Tim Tzouliadis

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, thousands of Americans left their homes and emigrated to the Soviet Union in search of a better life. They came from every walk of life (farmers, engineers, salesmen, cooks and clerks), but nearly all of them were from their country's 13m unemployed. Disillusioned with America, they placed their hopes in the “economic miracle” of Stalin's Five-Year Plan. At a time when the capitalist system appeared doomed, the USSR had growth and jobs. Perhaps they even thought that they would find a fairer, more humane society. People sold up everything to make the journey east. They believed they were departing for the “promised land”...
full review

The Physiology of Truth

From the latest New York Review of Books, a survey of the life work of Jean-Pierre Changeux, including his most recent, The Physiology of Truth, along with other neuroscience-related literature, such as V.S. Ramachandran's Phantoms in the Brain and Gerald Edelman's A Universe of Consciousness:

Jean-Pierre Changeux is France's most famous neuroscientist. Though less well known in the United States, he has directed a famous laboratory at the Pasteur Institute for more than thirty years, taught as a professor at the Collège de France, and written a number of works exploring "the neurobiology of meaning." Aside from his own books, Changeux has published two wide-ranging dialogues about mind and matter, one with the mathematician Alain Connes and the other with the late French philosopher Paul Ricoeur...
full review

Anarcho-Fantasy: The Dream of a World Without the State

John Zmirak responds to Tom Woods with the second essay in a symposium on sovereignty:

Every time I read an anarchist essay like Tom Woods’s piece on sovereignty, in which he implicitly calls for the abolition of the State, it fills me with a warm, nostalgic glow. Some 25 years ago, I was active in a group called the Party of the Right. To this day, that student-led organization of conservative inactivists still fights the Left at Yale—through bow-tied Oxford-style debates held over port and sherry on topics like “Resolved: That the Beautiful is Closer to the Good than to the True.”...

The lines were clearly drawn between the Libertarians and the Trads, and debates centered on how large a part (if any) the State had to play in promoting the Good. The worst fate folks on our side could imagine was that the conservative movement might be taken over by those Ayn Ranters, and turned into a movement concerned merely with small government, low taxes, and non-intervention.

For their part, the Libertarians feared that we Moral Majority types would outlaw abortion, relegate porn mags to special stores on back roads in bad neighborhoods, impose draconian laws on divorce, and restore Bible-reading at public schools.

None of us, in our worst panic attacks, ever dreamed how much worse things would actually turn out. That both our factions would soon be shoved aside or bought. That within a decade the conservative movement would be captured, controlled, and re-educated by a third force altogether...”
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Great Albums: "Have Moicy!" by the Holy Modal Rounders

Muslim "Bugs Bunny" Vows to "kill and eat" Jews

Kids TV as conceived by the degenerate genocidal culture of the Palestinians:

Assud the rabbit vows to "kill and eat Jews" and glorifies the maiming of "infidels" on the Palestinian children's show Tomorrow's Pioneers.

In one episode, Assud admits stealing money and is seen begging for mercy after young viewers and parents phone in demanding to cut off his hands as punishment.

At that point, Saraa, the 11-year-old presenter, intervenes and rules that the bunny should only have his ears severed because he has repented.
read all:

6 Technologies That Don't Know They're Dead

Cracked:

Some technologies are like a Tyrannosaurus running down the highway (without the awesome). They made sense once and now they're hideously out of place, carried only by momentum as they stumble toward their inevitable date with the sixteen-wheeler of Progress...

The Rachel Hoffman Case

Radley Balko:

ABC's 20/20 looks at the sad case of Rachel Hoffman, the 23-year-old college student murdered after police recruited her to be a drug informant. The show does a good job of not letting the police paint the woman as a hardened pusher (by all accounts, she wasn't). When the police chief says Hoffman was caught with a "quarter pound" of marijuana, the reporter asks him to illustrate about how much that would be. He's forced to reply, "about a baggie." When he says they found a felony amount of "Valium and ecstasy" in her apartment, he's forced to admit the felony supply comprised all of six pills...

Another Poll Confirming Muslim Incompatibility

Melanie Phillips:

A detailed poll of Muslim students conducted by the Centre for Social Cohesion has produced evidence of horrifying attitudes amongst a remarkably high proportion of them.

Almost one in three says that killing in the name of religion is justified. With 90,000 Muslim students at British universities that’s almost 30,000 individuals who think this. Virtually no non-Muslim students do so. And people say we haven’t got an appalling problem in Britain?

There’s much more. Four out of 10 say they support the introduction of sharia into UK law. That figure is broadly in line with previous surveys, and is again a shocking indication of the numbers who do not support the core belief of a western democracy that the law of the land is the law for everyone...
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1,000 laws that will let the state into your home

Daily Mail:

The march of the Big Brother state under Labour was highlighted last night as it was revealed that there are now 1,043 laws that give the authorities the power to enter a home or business.

Nearly half have been introduced since Labour came to power 11 years ago...

Cheer Up - These Are the Good Old Days

Assures Jeff Jacoby:

ARE YOU anxious? Dejected? Fearful? Why wouldn't you be, considering the barrage of rotten news assaulting you from every direction?

"Everything seemingly is spinning out of control," moaned the apocalyptic headline on a recent AP dispatch. "Midwestern levees are bursting. Polar bears are adrift. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Home values are abysmal. Airfares, college tuition, and healthcare border on unaffordable...
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Austrian Theory of the Trade Cycle

Free audiobook download of the Austrian Theory of the Trade Cycle, which was compiled in 1996 by Richard Ebeling, and includes essays by Roger Garrison, Ludwig von Mises, Gottfried Haberler, Murray Rothbard, and Friedrich Hayek.

Suicide on the Tube

excerpt:

There are plenty of ways to commit suicide, but few more public than turning a multi-ton moving train full of passengers into a bullet. Last year in in the U.K., 194 people killed themselves on the tracks of mass transit systems, with some 50 of those choosing the sooty tunnels of the Tube.
full article

Maths Is Harder for Girls

Heather MacDonald:

The New York Times is determined to show that women are discriminated against in the sciences; too bad the facts say otherwise. A new study has “found that girls perform as well as boys on standardized math tests,” claims a July 25 article by Tamar Lewin—thus, the underrepresentation of women on science faculties must result from bias. Actually, the study, summarized in the July 25 issue of Science, shows something quite different: while boys’ and girls’ average scores are similar, boys outnumber girls among students in both the highest and the lowest score ranges. Either the Times is deliberately concealing the results of the study or its reporter cannot understand the most basic science reporting...
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Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Dark Knight

Ebert's review:

“Batman” isn’t a comic book anymore. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is a haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy. It creates characters we come to care about. That’s because of the performances, because of the direction, because of the writing, and because of the superlative technical quality of the entire production. This film, and to a lesser degree “Iron Man,” redefine the possibilities of the “comic-book movie.”..
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

'Solutions' to Problems Caused By 'Solutions'

Thomas Sowell:

We don’t look to arsonists to help put out fires but we do look to politicians to help solve financial crises that they played a major role in creating.

How did the government help create the current financial mess? Let me count the ways...
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Friday, July 18, 2008

The Arrogance of Obama

From Charles Krauthammer's latest:

Americans are beginning to notice Obama's elevated opinion of himself. There's nothing new about narcissism in politics. Every senator looks in the mirror and sees a president. Nonetheless, has there ever been a presidential nominee with a wider gap between his estimation of himself and the sum total of his lifetime achievements?...

As president of the Harvard Law Review, as law professor and as legislator, has he ever produced a single notable piece of scholarship? Written a single memorable article? His most memorable work is a biography of his favorite subject: himself.

It is a subject upon which he can dilate effortlessly. In his victory speech upon winning the nomination, Obama declared it a great turning point in history — "generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment" — when, among other wonders, "the rise of the oceans began to slow."

As economist Irwin Stelzer noted in his London Daily Telegraph column, "Moses made the waters recede, but he had help." Obama may think he's King Canute, but the good king ordered the tides to halt precisely to refute sycophantic aides who suggested that he had such power. Obama has no such modesty...
full article

Hayek's Challenge

Bruce Caldwell talks about his book Hayek's Challenge: An Intellectual Biography of F.A. Hayek in an excellent hour-long conversation with Will Wilkinson.

related: Jason Steorts's review in National Review. Excerpt:
As Hayek's ideas matured, he became increasingly critical of developments within mainstream economics; his works evolved in striking—and sometimes seemingly contradictory—ways. Caldwell is ideally suited to explain the complex evolution of Hayek's thought, and his analysis here is nothing short of brilliant, impressively situating Hayek in a broader intellectual context, unpacking the often difficult turns in his thinking, and showing how his economic ideas came to inform his ideas on the other social sciences. Hayek is fortunate in his biographer. Hayek's Challenge is a success, and Caldwell proves himself capable of presenting Hayek's ideas—in all fields—with both depth and clarity.

Dhimmis Explained

From an interview with Bill Warner, the director of the Center for the Study of Political Islam (CSPI):

Dhimmis begin with Mohammed. He was the world’s supreme master of making others submit to his will... Under Allah, all humans come to their fulfillment by being Allah’s slave. But since Mohammed was the only “prophet” of Allah, to obey Allah was to obey Mohammed. Islam is submission to Allah/Mohammed.

In his early phase in Mecca, Mohammed only talked about religious slavery to Allah/Mohammed... The Koran of Mecca has 67% of its text devoted to how the kafirs (unbelievers) must submit to Allah/ Mohammed.

Then in Medina, Mohammed’s message became political, and he became violent without limits towards kafirs. Mohammed made all the Jews of Medina submit to him by robbery, murder, war, assassinations, rape, torture, executions, exile and enslavement.

After he had subdued all of the kafirs in Medina, Mohammed attacked the Jews of Khaybar. By now he realized that you could make more money from a live kafir than from a dead one. Kafirs can be enslaved, but the slave option has a disadvantage. Slaves have to be managed and be near at hand. So Mohammed created the dhimmi.

The dhimmi agrees to live in a world that is dominated by Islam in all public areas. A dhimmi is free from Islam only in his own home. Law, customs, art, education, the media, government, speech and every thing in public space is Islamic. In addition, the dhimmi has to pay a tax to Islam called the jizya tax. In Khaybar the jizya tax was 50%.

As the Islamic conquest rolled over the kafirs, the dhimmi was the perfect tool of subjugation. After Islam conquered a country, for instance Egypt, the Christians could keep their religion, but had to live without legal protection or civil rights. All public space was Islamic. The dhimmi could be insulted, abused and had no recourse...

The insults, humiliations and taxes wore the dhimmis down. What happened over time was that the dhimmis converted to Islam. It was easier to avoid all this pain and become a Muslim...
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Leopard vs. Crocodile

Daily Mail

Friday, July 11, 2008

Chess Boxing

A RUSSIAN man has been crowned world champion in the novelty sport of chess boxing, a game that requires equal skill at moving pawns and throwing punches.

Mathematics student Nikolai Sazhin, 19, competing under the name "The President'' knocked out a 37-year-old German policeman Frank Stoldt, who served as a peacekeeper in Kosovo until recently.

The loser said he was simply too punch-drunk to fend off checkmate.
read article

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Cult of the Presidency

Gene Healy essay adapted from his new book The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power:
"I ain't running for preacher," Republican presidential candidate Phil Gramm snarled to religious right activists in 1995 when they urged him to run a campaign stressing moral themes. Several months later, despite Gramm's fund raising prowess, the Texas conservative finished a desultory fifth place in the Iowa caucuses and quickly dropped out of the race. Since then, few candidates have made Gramm's mistake. Serious contenders for the office recognize that the role and scope of the modern presidency cannot be so narrowly confined. Today's candidates are running enthusiastically for national preacher — and much else besides.

In the revival tent atmosphere of Barack Obama's campaign, the preferred hosanna of hope is "Yes we can!" We can, the Democratic front-runner promises, not only create "a new kind of politics" but "transform this country," "change the world," and even "create a Kingdom right here on earth." With the presidency, all things are possible..
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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Wilful Blindness

In this hour-long TV interview, Andrew McCarthy discusses his book Wilful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad with radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Publishers Weekly:
Andrew McCarthy, the prosecutor responsible for leading the investigation of Blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and others involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing dissects the miscues between federal agencies that led to that event while laying bare the challenges facing the war on terror today. The pre-1993 comedy of errors begins with the CIA's decision to funnel arms and money to Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war and continues with inexplicable lapses of communication between the State Department and immigration officials (despite having been placed on a State Department terror watchlist, the sheikh travels freely to the United States). The most enduring oversight, however, at least from McCarthy's perspective, is the refusal among academics and political leaders to confront fundamentalist Islamic tenets, the 800-pound gorilla that is somehow always in the middle of the room when terror strikes. The jihadist philosophy that guided the Blind Sheikh is traced through generations of Islamic thinkers to the Prophet Mohammed himself.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Wolfe & Gazzaniga on Neuroscience

Michael Gazzaniga, the father of cognitive neuroscience, and Tom Wolfe, the original New Journalist discuss status, free will, the human condition, and The Interpreter.

video and transcript

Hitchens Gets Waterboarded

Christopher Hitchens:
Here is the most chilling way I can find of stating the matter. Until recently, “waterboarding” was something that Americans did to other Americans. It was inflicted, and endured, by those members of the Special Forces who underwent the advanced form of training known as sere (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape). In these harsh exercises, brave men and women were introduced to the sorts of barbarism that they might expect to meet at the hands of a lawless foe who disregarded the Geneva Conventions. But it was something that Americans were being trained to resist, not to inflict...

Soixante-Huitards for Obama

Daniel Flynn:
Backing a major-party candidate for president would have been anathema to Michael Klonsky 40 summers ago, when the organization he led, Students for a Democratic Society, urged young people to spurn elections. “By ’68, our line was ‘Vote in the Streets,’” Klonsky told me last spring. “We thought we had to fight with Eugene McCarthy and those people.” In August 1968, protesters clashed with police outside the Democratic Party’s national convention in Chicago—but far from being political innocents who took to the streets to protest Vietnam War hawks’ capture of the Democratic presidential nomination, many of them never supported antiwar candidates McCarthy and Robert Kennedy. “Those of us who have been in the streets for the past five days didn’t give a flying fuck whether McCarthy would win or lose,” SDS declared in posters around Chicago, “and now that he’s lost, still don’t.”... Klonsky, whose disgust for mainstream politics led him to launch a new, Maoist Communist Party in the 1970s, today supports Barack Obama so enthusiastically that until recently he was blogging on the Illinois senator’s campaign website. And boycotting this November’s election, Klonsky maintains, would be a “tragic mistake.”...
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The Way We Age Now

New Yorker (from last year):
The hardest substance in the human body is the white enamel of the teeth. With age, it wears away nonetheless, allowing the softer, darker layers underneath to show through. Meanwhile, the blood supply to the pulp and the roots of the teeth atrophies, and the flow of saliva diminishes; the gums tend to become inflamed and pull away from the teeth, exposing the base, making them unstable and elongating their appearance, especially the lower ones. Experts say they can gauge a person’s age to within five years from the examination of a single tooth—if the person has any teeth left to examine...

Friday, July 04, 2008

Philosophy Interviews

Wonderful collection of Bryan Magee's highly regarded TV interviews with philosophers is freely available here, and includes:

A.J. Ayer on Logical Positivism
Geoffrey Warnock on Kant
Hilary Putnam on the Philosophy of Science
Hubert Dreyfus on Husserl and Heidegger
J.P. Stern on Nietzsche
John Passmore on Hume
John Searle on Wittgenstein
Michael Ayers on Locke and Berkeley
W.V. Quine on his own ideas, and
Sidney Morgenbesser on the Pragmatists

related: Transcripts of several of these interviews were later compiled in the book The Great Philosophers: An Introduction to Western Philosophy

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Steve Reich

Interesting South Bank Show documentary about experimental composer Steve Reich (in 6 parts)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Heron at Prey

As a duck, trying to battle with a heron and force it to give up its quarry was always going to be a difficult task.

These amazing pictures show, frame by frame, how the heron swooped on the duck and her family as they swam near Bray Harbour in County Wicklow...
pictures

Neuroscience Challenges Idea of Free Will

Wall Street Journal:
Fishing in the stream of consciousness, researchers now can detect our intentions and predict our choices before we are aware of them ourselves. The brain, they have found, appears to make up its mind 10 seconds before we become conscious of a decision -- an eternity at the speed of thought.

Their findings challenge conventional notions of choice.

"We think our decisions are conscious," said neuroscientist John-Dylan Haynes at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, who is pioneering this research. "But these data show that consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg. This doesn't rule out free will, but it does make it implausible."...

Monday, June 23, 2008

How Affirmative Action Helped Cause the Housing Crisis

Steve Sailer:
Uncovering the roots of the disastrous home mortgage bubble that popped last year will keep economic historians busy for decades. Yet, one factor has so far been largely overlooked: the bipartisan social engineering crusade to drive up the rate of homeownership by handing out more mortgages to minorities...

The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism

Review of Andrew Bostom's follow-up to The Legacy of Jihad:
Particularly since the late, lifelong Muslim Brother, Yasser Arafat, shifted anti-Israel jihad into fifth gear in September 2000, several Middle East and Islamic scholars have repeatedly asserted that 20th and 21st century Islamic anti-Semitism sprang solely from Nazi and European Christian influence.

Even now, Islamophiles like Bernard Lewis preach (as it were) that virulent Jew-hatred is not inherent to Islam--but rather, anti-Semitism migrated to the Middle East with European colonialism. The Quran uses "hard words ... about the Jews," even Lewis admits. Yet under Islamic rule, he claims they were "only rarely subject to persecution" and "their situation was never as bad as in Christendom at its worst ... "

Dr. Andrew G. Bostom's extensive, scientific and largely unprecedented new book, The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History, definitively disproves such claims...

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Happening

Chris Orr, at The New Republic, has an amusing slam:
M. Night Shyamalan's latest movie, The Happening, is not merely bad. It is an astonishment, so idiotic in conception and inept in execution that, after seeing it, one almost wonders whether it was real or imagined. It's the kind of movie you want to laugh about with friends, swapping favorite moments of inanity: "Do you remember the part when Mark Wahlberg ... ?" "God, yes. And what about that scene where the wind ... ?"

The problem, of course, is that to have such a conversation, you'd normally have to see the movie, which I believe is an unreasonably high price to pay just to make fun of it. So rather than write a conventional review explaining why you should or shouldn't see The Happening (trust me, you shouldn't), I'm offering an alternative: A dozen and a half of the most mind-bendingly ridiculous elements of the film, which will enable you to marvel at its anti-genius without sacrificing (and I don't use that term lightly) 90 minutes of your life. As this is intended to be an alternative to seeing the actual film it is, of course, overflowing with spoilers...
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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Great Albums: "The Real Quietstorm" by James Carter

Christgau:
I don't see the point of comparing the most prodigious young jazzman since David Murray if not Ornette to anyone less titanic than Sonny Rollins. He can play anything, with a giant sound on all four saxes plus bass flute and bass clarinet. I greatly enjoy and highly recommend his two blowing sessions for DIW, JC on the Set and Jurassic Classics, with the latter slightly favored for its classic heads--Monk, Ellington, Rollins, Coltrane, Clifford Brown. Still, neither suggests much reason for the playing beyond the playing itself, however sufficient a cause that may be. This romantic set has some concept. Two unfazed Carter originals complement a surprising selection of make-out music by Monk, Ellington, Sun Ra, Bill Doggett, and Carter's main man Don Byas. Not only is it more unified, it's more pop, which intensifies the aesthetic charge. And Carter lets Byas's "1944 Stomp" rip so fast and hard you'll order up a blowing session immediately.

The Singularity

John Horgan is not convinced:
I'm 54, with all that entails. Gray hair, trick knee, trickier memory. I still play a mean game of hockey, and my love life requires no pharmaceutical enhancement. But entropy looms ever larger. Suffice it to say, I would love to believe that we are rapidly approaching “the Singularity.” Like paradise, technological singularity comes in many versions, but most involve bionic brain boosting. At first, we'll become cyborgs, as stupendously powerful brain chips soup up our perception, memory, and intelligence and maybe even eliminate the need for annoying TV remotes. Eventually, we will abandon our flesh-and-blood selves entirely and upload our digitized psyches into computers. We will then dwell happily forever in cyberspace where, to paraphrase Woody Allen, we'll never need to look for a parking space. Sounds good to me!...
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The Charming Peasant Life of Pre-Industrial Europe

Don Boudreaux, at Cafe Hayek, quotes William Manchester's 1992 book A World Lit Only By Fire on the romantically rustic lifestyles of peasants in late-medieval and even Renaissance Europe, a world sadly lost after mankind opted for carbon-burning industrialisation instead:

Lying at the end of a narrow, muddy lane, his rambling edifice of thatch, wattles, mud, and dirty brown wood was almost obscured by a towering dung heap in what, without it, would have been the front yard. The building was large, for it was more than a dwelling. Beneath its sagging roof were a pigpen, a henhouse, cattle sheds, corncribs, straw and hay, and, last and least, the family's apartment, actually a single room whose walls and timbers were coated with soot. According to Erasmus, who examined such huts, "almost all the floors are of clay and rushes from the marshes, so carelessly renewed that the foundation sometimes remains for twenty years, harboring, there below, spittle and vomit and wine of dogs and men, beer...remnants of fishes, and other filth unnameable. Hence, with the change of weather, a vapor exhales which in my judgment is far from wholesome."

The centerpiece of the room was a gigantic bedstead, piled high with straw pallets, all seething with vermin. Everyone slept there, regardless of age or gender -- grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, and hens and pigs -- and if a couple chose to enjoy intimacy, the others were aware of every movement. In summer they could even watch.....

If this familial situation seems primitive, it should be borne in mind that these were prosperous peasants. Not all of their neighbors were so lucky. Some lived in tiny cabins of crossed laths, stuffed with grass or straw, inadequately shielded from rain, snow, and wind. They lacked even a chimney; smoke from the cabin's fire left through a small hole in the thatched roof -- where, unsurprisingly, fires frequently broke out. These homes were without glass windows or shutters; in a storm, or in frigid weather, openings in the walls could only be stuffed with straw, rags -- whatever was handy....

Typically, three years of harvests could be expected for one year of famine. The years of hunger were terrible. The peasants might be forced to sell all they owned, including their pitifully inadequate clothing, and be reduced to nudity in all seasons. In the hardest times they devoured bark, roots, grass; even white clay. Cannibalism was not unknown. Strangers and travelers were waylaid and killed to be eaten, and there are tales of gallows being torn down -- as many as twenty bodies would hang from a single scaffold -- by men frantic to eat the warm flesh raw.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Consciousness

Two excellent episodes of Standford's Philosophy Talk show with John Perry & Ken Taylor:
Human are conscious, billiard balls are not, and computers aren't either. But all three are just collections of molecules, aren't they? What is consciousness, and does it go beyond what science can explain? Join John, Ken, and their guest, Joseph Levine, author of Purple Haze: The Puzzle of Consciousness, as they probe the limits of scientific accounts of consciousness.
audio & related links
Is the conscious mind just the brain or something more? Can science explain consciousness? How does Ken know that John is a conscious being and not just an automaton programmed to act like a conscious being? Or is John just an automaton? With guest David Chalmers, author of The Conscious Mind.
audio and related links

Encounters at the End of the World

Dana Stevens, at Slate, takes a look at Herzog's latest:
Werner Herzog is one of the earth's disappearing natural resources: a filmmaker of boundless energy, curiosity, and passion who for 45 years has pursued his craft at an indifferent remove from the bustle of awards ceremonies and box-office returns...

Herzog's driving obsession, in both his feature and documentary films, has always been the elusive boundary between nature and culture. He loves stories about implacable landscapes (the jungle, the desert, the oil fields of Kuwait) and the men who try—in vain but with an absurd nobility—to tame them...

Brainpower May Lie in Complexity of Synapses

Reports Nicholas Wade in the New York Times:
Evolution’s recipe for making a brain more complex has long seemed simple enough. Just increase the number of nerve cells, or neurons, and the interconnections between them. A human brain, for instance, is three times the volume of a chimpanzee’s.

A whole new dimension of evolutionary complexity has now emerged from a cross-species study led by Dr. Seth Grant at the Sanger Institute in England.

Dr. Grant looked at the interconnections between neurons, known as synapses, which until now have been regarded as a standard feature of neurons. But in fact the synapses get considerably more complex going up the evolutionary scale...

Beyond the Hoax

Michael Shermer on Alan Sokal's new book about his famous hoax:
Decades of careful and extensive research into cognition and the psychology of how beliefs are formed show that none of us simply gather facts and draw conclusions from them in an inductive process. Most of us, most of the time, arrive at our beliefs for a host of psychological and social reasons that have little or nothing to do with logic, reason, empiricism, or data. Most of our beliefs are shaped by our parents, our siblings, our peer groups, our teachers, our mentors, our professional colleagues, and by the culture at large. We form and hold those beliefs because they provide emotional comfort, because they fit well with our lifestyles or career choices, or because they work within the larger context of our family dynamics or social network. Then we build back into those beliefs reasons for why we hold them. This process is driven by two well-known cognitive biases: the hindsight bias, where once an event has happened or a belief is formed it is easy to look back and reconstruct not only how it happened or was formed, but also why it had to be that way and not some other way; and the confirmation bias, in which we seek and find confirmatory evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret disconfirmatory evidence...
full review

The Happiness Hypothesis

Jonathan Haidt discusses his 2006 'positive psychology' book The Happiness Hypothesis with Will Wilkinson on this recent episode of Bloggingheads TV.

related: Links to reviews

Shock as Liberal Social Engineers Fail Again

Now online - Hanna Rosin's Atlantic Monthly article on the not unpredictable fallout of a celebrated social engineering project to tear down inner city slums and disperse the residents throughout the suburbs, as the cultural pathologies of the inner city dwellers were asssumed by liberal do-gooders to be a byproduct of their ghetto environment, rather than the ghetto environment having been created because of the cultural pathologies of its occupants:
To get to the Old Allen police station in North Memphis, you have to drive all the way to the end of a quiet suburban road until it turns country. Hidden by six acres of woods, the station seems to be the kind of place that might concern itself mainly with lost dogs, or maybe the misuse of hunting licenses. But it isn’t. Not anymore. As Lieutenant Doug Barnes waited for me to arrive one night for a tour of his beat, he had a smoke and listened for shots. He counted eight, none meant for buck. “Nothing unusual for a Tuesday,” he told me.

Barnes is white, middle-aged, and, like many veteran cops, looks powerful without being fit. He grew up four miles from the station during the 1960s, he said, back when middle-class whites lived peacefully alongside both city elites and working-class African Americans. After the 1968 riots, Barnes’s father taught him the word curfew and reminded him to lock the doors. Still, the place remained, until about 10 years ago, a pretty safe neighborhood where you could play outside with a ball or a dog. But as he considered more-recent times, his nostalgia gave way to something darker. “I have never been so disheartened,” he said.
read all

Why the 'Pristine' Arctic Should Be Drilled for Oil

Jonah Goldberg:
Sen. John McCain said this week he would not drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for the same reason he “would not drill in the Grand Canyon . . . I believe this area should be kept pristine.”... One wonders how pristine the Grand Canyon can be if it has roughly 5 million visitors every year, rafting, hiking, picnicking, and riding mules up one side and down the other...

This isn’t to say that the Grand Canyon isn’t a beautiful place; it inspires awe among those who visit it. ANWR (pronounced “AN-wahr”) inspires awe almost entirely in those who haven’t been there. It is an environmental Brigadoon or Shangri-La, a fabled land almost no one will ever see. That is its appeal. People like the idea that there are still Edens “out there” even if they will never, ever see them.

Indeed, if Americans could visit the north coast of Alaska, as I have, as easily as they can visit the Grand Canyon, the oil would be flowing by now...
read all

Friday, June 13, 2008

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Nicholas Carr, from the current edition of Atlantic Monthly:
“Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?” So the supercomputer HAL pleads with the implacable astronaut Dave Bowman in a famous and weirdly poignant scene toward the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bowman, having nearly been sent to a deep-space death by the malfunctioning machine, is calmly, coldly disconnecting the memory circuits that control its artificial brain. “Dave, my mind is going,” HAL says, forlornly. “I can feel it. I can feel it.”

I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages...

The Blind Watchmaker



Good old BBC2 Horizon documentary on Richard Dawkins's book The Blind Watchmaker (in 5 parts).

P.J. O'Rourke Visits China

For years I’ve been active in Freedom House, the oldest of the private organizations advocating for international freedom and democracy. We’ve seen progress, especially since 1989. We’ve seen backsliding. And we’ve seen stasis, notably 1.3-billion-persons’-worth of stasis in China. Freedom House rates China as “Not Free.” On a scale of 1 to 7—where 1 is as free as human nature allows and 7 is completely otherwise—China scores 6 on civil liberties and 7 on political rights.

Yet we at Freedom House cannot be exactly right. A mere increase in China’s prosperity must mean that more Chinese have greater wherewithal to exercise some aspects of free will. Certainly the Chinese are more free now than they were during the Great Leap Forward, when millions were constrained by starving to death. And the Chinese are freer to go about their business than they were during the Cultural Revolution, when there was no business to go about...
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Understanding The Koran

Bill Warner:
Have you ever heard someone say: “What we need is a new translation of the Koran.” What they really mean is that we need a Koran we can read and understand. The difficulties of reading the Koran are notorious and common.

The Koran is repetitious and chaotic. Who do you know who has read the Koran and says that they understand it? The muddled chaos is passed off as profoundness. The confusion is proof of the Koran’s deep wisdom. Right. But, if the Koran were handed to an English teacher, it would receive an F as a grade. And as it turns out, the translation has almost nothing to do with the problem...

In Defense of Sweatshops

Benjamin Powell:
I do not want to work in a third world "sweatshop." If you are reading this on a computer, chances are you don't either. Sweatshops have deplorable working conditions and extremely low pay—compared to the alternative employment available to me and probably you. That is why we choose not to work in sweatshops. All too often the fact that we have better alternatives leads first world activists to conclude that there must be better alternatives for third world workers too...

“An Introduction to Austrian Economics” by Thomas Taylor

New, free, audiobook version of Thomas C. Taylor's 1980 An Introduction to Austrian Economics.

Text version here

Ireland's "No" to the Anti-Democratic EU

John O'Sullivan:
Ireland seems to have voted a convincing No — by about 54 to 46 percent — to the proposed Lisbon Treaty that would have moved the EU even closer to being a fully-fledged state with its own foreign minister and "common foreign policy" on top of citizenship, flag, anthem, etc., etc. The Lisbon Treaty is almost identical to the European Constitution that was previously rejected by the French and Dutch electorates in referenda two years ago.

Under the EU rules rejection by a single state is supposed to doom a treaty, let alone a "constitutional treaty." Hey, but what's a constitution between friends? Or even acquaintances? All that happened two years ago was that the Constitution was re-packaged as a Treaty with minor cosmetic changes such as re-naming the EU Foreign Minister a "High Representative." The European Diplomatic Service went ahead despite the absence of any legal basis for it — so did a multitude of other EU institutions such as a defense procurement agency and, come to think of it, an entire Euro-defense structure.

So everyone now expects that Europe will find some way to ignore the voters yet again — Gordon Brown has even telephoned Nicholas Sarkozy to reassure him that the British government will press ahead with its own ratification of the treaty despite the fact that it is now technically dead. How to solve the larger problem? Well, Ireland might be asked to think again; it's standard EU procedure to keep asking the same question until the voters finally give the right answer...

The French and Dutch electorates, having rejected the treaty the first time, were simply not allowed to vote on it a second time. Almost every other country confined its endorsement to parliamentary ratification even though massive constitutional change and a significant loss of sovereignty (both of which usually require a two-thirds majority in democratic organizations) were mandated by Lisbon. And the Eurocrats tried an end run around national political resistance by insisting that although treaty ratification was not legally binding on governments, it was nonetheless "politically binding"—a hitherto unheard-of concept...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Worst Job Interview Mistakes

From CareerBuilder.com's annual survey of the worst interview mistakes:

• Candidate answered cell phone and asked the interviewer to leave her own office because it was a "private" conversation.

• Applicant told the interviewer he wouldn't be able to stay with the job long because he thought he might get an inheritance if his uncle died - and his uncle wasn't "looking too good."

• The job seeker asked the interviewer for a ride home after the interview.

• The applicant smelled his armpits on the way to the interview room.

• Candidate said she could not provide a writing sample because all of her writing had been for the CIA and it was "classified."

• Candidate told the interviewer he was fired for beating up his last boss.

• When the applicant was offered food before the interview, he declined saying he didn't want to line his stomach with grease before going out drinking.

• An applicant said she was a "people person" not a "numbers person" -- in her interview for an accounting position.

• During a phone interview the candidate flushed the toilet while talking to hiring manager.

Libertarian Paternalism

Evan Goldstein:

"You see that?" Richard H. Thaler asks as we ride down picturesque Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. Thaler knows the route well. He travels it every day on his commute home from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, where he is a professor of behavioral science and economics. At the moment, he is excitedly jabbing his finger toward an approaching curve in the road, telling me that it is the scene of numerous accidents caused by drivers who fail to sufficiently reduce their speed. Then he directs my attention to a grid of lines that appear on the road ahead of us: Evenly spaced at first, as we near the apex of the curve, the lines begin to bunch closer together, which makes us feel like we are speeding up.

As Thaler taps the brakes and gently steers into the bend, he explains how the tightly spaced lines trigger an instinct that causes drivers to slow down. With evident glee, he notes that Chicago is effectively exploiting — to society's benefit — one of the many ways in which human perception is flawed. Or, as Thaler puts it, drivers are being "nudged" toward safety.

What does a peculiar pattern on the road have to do with fixing the nation's health-care woes, protecting the environment, resolving the thorny issue of gay marriage, and increasing donations to charity? Everything, according to Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, a professor of law and political science at the University of Chicago. They are authors of a new book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Yale University Press), in which they articulate an approach to designing social and economic policies that incorporates an understanding of people's cognitive limitations.

They call this governing philosophy "libertarian paternalism." That is not an oxymoron, they insist in their book. Rather it is a corrective to the longstanding assumption of policy makers that the average person is capable of thinking like Albert Einstein, storing as much memory as IBM's Big Blue, and exercising the willpower of Mahatma Gandhi. That is simply not how people are, they say. In reality human beings are lazy, busy, impulsive, inert, and irrational creatures highly susceptible to predictable biases and errors. That's why they can be nudged in socially desirable directions...
related: Richard Thaler discusses the concept of libertarian paternalism with Russ Roberts in this podcast

Ed Glaeser makes the case against 'soft paternalism' in
this one

Sharia Creep

Bruce Bawer:

Islam divides the world into two parts. The part governed by sharia, or Islamic law, is called the Dar al-Islam, or House of Submission. Everything else is the Dar al-Harb, or House of War, so called because it will take war — holy war, jihad — to bring it into the House of Submission. Over the centuries, this jihad has taken a variety of forms. Two centuries ago, for instance, Muslim pirates from North Africa captured ships and enslaved their crews, leading the U.S. to fight the Barbary Wars of 1801–05 and 1815. In recent decades, the jihadists’ weapon of choice has usually been the terrorist’s bomb; the use of planes as missiles on 9/11 was a variant of this method.

What has not been widely recognized is that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa against Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie introduced a new kind of jihad. Instead of assaulting Western ships or buildings, Kho­meini took aim at a fundamental Western freedom: freedom of speech. In recent years, other Islamists have joined this crusade, seeking to undermine Western societies’ basic liberties and extend sharia within those societies...

Here Comes Everybody

Timothy Lee reviews Clay Shirky's new book on the Digital Age Here Comes Everybody. Sample:

One of the most talked-about consequences of the rise of digital communications technologies is the turmoil these have unleashed in the publishing industries. Newspapers and magazines, book and music publishers, and Hollywood studios are all feeling squeezed as the printing and distribution services they provide become less and less valuable.

Shirky points out that this turmoil is not new; indeed, the printing press itself unleashed similar turmoil when it was first introduced to Europe in the 15th century. For centuries, scribes had held an honored place in society, propagating society's written culture at a time when the vast majority of people were illiterate. But the printing press suddenly called the scribes' privileged position into question by drastically reducing the cost of creating books. Suddenly, the scribes' time-honored skills were a lot less valuable than they used to be.

Shirky tells the amusing story of an Abbot named Johannes Trithemius. In 1492—a half-century after Gutenberg's first printing press—he wrote a treatise on the superiority of the scrivener's life to the vulgarity of movable type. But Trithemius had a problem: he wanted his book to reach a broad audience, and that would have been impossible if he had relied on his fellow scribes to reproduce the book by hand. So he had the book printed...
related: In-depth discussion about the book between Shirky and interviewer Will Wilkinson here

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Salvia Divinorum

Newsweek:

For centuries the Mazatec Indians have chewed Salvia divinorum, a hallucinogenic member of the sage family, to treat diarrhea, headaches, rheumatism—and an ailment known as "swollen belly" (triggered by an evil sorcerer's curse). "It causes a very introspective state of awareness where you dive into your inner psyche," says medical botanist Daniel Seibert, who has spent more than a decade studying the herb. "I find it useful for gaining insight. I realized I wanted to marry my wife as a result of the salvia experience."

Known as "Magic Mint" or "Sally-D," salvia is legal to buy, sell and smoke in most states, and a slew of online companies advertising and selling salvia-derived products have helped it catch on with young people looking for a new high. Videos purporting to show high-school- and college-age kids smoking salvia are all over YouTube. Now the resulting media attention is spooking legislators and law enforcement: 10 states have recently passed laws criminalizing or restricting the sale and possession of salvia. A dozen more have legislation on the table, New York being the latest to consider action. A North Dakota man was arrested last month and charged with possession after purchasing eight ounces of salvia for $32 on eBay..

Kluge

Gary Marcus discusses his latest book on the nature of the mind and the brain, Kluge, with Carl Zimmer in this Bloggingheads diavlog.

Amazon review:
In this lucid and revealing book, Marcus argues that the mind is not an elegantly designed organ but rather a "kluge," a clumsy, cobbled-together contraption. He unveils a fundamentally new way of looking at the human mind -- think duct tape, not supercomputer -- that sheds light on some of the most mysterious aspects of human nature.
related article:Total Recall:

How much would you pay to have a small memory chip implanted in your brain if that chip would double the capacity of your short-term memory? Or guarantee that you would never again forget a face or a name?

There’s good reason to consider such offers. Although our memories are sometimes spectacular — we are very good at recognizing photos, for example — our memory capacities are often disappointing. Faulty memories have been known to lead to erroneous eyewitness testimony (and false imprisonment), to marital friction (in the form of overlooked anniversaries) and even death (sky divers have been known to forget to pull their ripcords — accounting, by one estimate, for approximately 6 percent of sky-diving fatalities). The dubious dynamics of memory leave us vulnerable to the predations of spin doctors (because a phrase like “death tax” automatically brings to mind a different set of associations than “estate tax”), the pitfalls of stereotyping (in which easily accessible memories wash out less common counterexamples) and what the psychologist Timothy Wilson calls “mental contamination.” To the extent that we frequently can’t separate relevant information from irrelevant information, memory is often the culprit.

All this becomes even more poignant when you compare our memories to those of the average laptop. Whereas it takes the average human child weeks or even months or years to memorize something as simple as a multiplication table, any modern computer can memorize any table in an instant — and never forget it. Why can’t we do the same?...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Great Albums: "Look What Thoughts Will Do" by Lefty Frizzell

Amazon.com:

With his unparalleled dulcet voice, Texas honky-tonker Lefty Frizzell represents the crucial link between traditional country and modern interpreters such as George Jones and Merle Haggard. Frizzell grew up listening to Jimmie Rodgers and borrowed heavily from Rodgers's country-blues approach, infusing his vocals with sweet slurs and melodious slides. Wisely, this 2 CD set focuses on his early creative peak: 22 of the 34 cuts are from 1950 to 1953, adding only highlights of his erratic 1955-1965 work.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Professor Threatens to Sue 'Anti-Intellectual' Students

Wall Street Journal:

Often it seems as though American higher education exists only to provide gag material for the outside world. The latest spectacle is an Ivy League professor threatening to sue her students because, she claims, their "anti-intellectualism" violated her civil rights.

Priya Venkatesan taught English at Dartmouth College. She maintains that some of her students were so unreceptive of "French narrative theory" that it amounted to a hostile working environment. She is also readying lawsuits against her superiors, who she says papered over the harassment, as well as a confessional exposé, which she promises will "name names."

Ms. Venkatesan lectured in freshman composition, intended to introduce undergraduates to the rigors of expository argument. "My students were very bully-ish, very aggressive, and very disrespectful," she told Tyler Brace of the Dartmouth Review. "They'd argue with your ideas." This caused "subversiveness", a principle English professors usually favor.

Ms. Venkatesan's scholarly specialty is "science studies," which, as she wrote in a journal article last year, "teaches that scientific knowledge has suspect access to truth." She continues: "Scientific facts do not correspond to a natural reality but conform to a social construct."

The agenda of Ms. Venkatesan's seminar, then, was to "problematize" technology and the life sciences. Students told me that most of the "problems" owed to her impenetrable lectures and various eruptions when students indicated skepticism of literary theory. She counters that such skepticism was "intolerant of ideas" and "questioned my knowledge in very inappropriate ways."...

New Study: Hundreds of Millions of Muslims Are Terrorist Sympathizers

After a "mammoth, six-year effort to poll and interview tens of thousands of Muslims in more than 35 countries with Muslim majorities or substantial minorities" professional apologist for Islam John Esposito claims in a new book that the results reveal that 'only' 7 percent of muslims are radical terrorist supporters. But, as Robert Satloff, in a new article in the Weekly Standard, reveals, Esposito fails to count as 'radicals' an additional 29.6% who are openly sympathetic to muslim supremacist terrorists, most of whom also expressed the wish to see sharia law replace all secular constitutions.

But even leaving aside the vast numbers of muslims who are 'sympathetic' rather than 'supportive' of muslim terrorists, and leaving aside the fact that the 7% figure would surely have been much higher if the question was not "Do you approve of the terrorist method of advancing jihad", about which there is some genuine disagreement in the muslim world, but rather "Do you support muslims who engage in jihad, as defined in orthodox Islamic scripture and jurisprudence", and also leaving aside the fact that Mohammed sanctioned lying in the cause of Islamic supremacism, so there is no reason to expect a muslim to admit to supporting jihad, even if we take that 7% figure at face value this amounts to approximately 80 million openly terrorist-supporting muslims, which surely in and of itself ought to be sufficient justification for a separationist policy toward the muslim world!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Raj Quartet

John Derbyshire:

In the early weeks of 1984, for an hour each Tuesday and Sunday evening, a strange silence fell over England, or at any rate over the bourgeois precincts thereof. Streets were deserted; bartenders and waiters dozed idle at their stations; theaters and cinemas played to half-empty houses; telephones and doorbells went unanswered. The English middle classes were in front of their television sets, gripped by the first (Tuesdays) or repeat (Sundays) broadcasting of The Jewel in the Crown, in fourteen weekly episodes. I was living in the English Midlands myself at the time and recall the enthusiasm. It was, I think, the greatest success for a TV fiction miniseries since The Forsyte Saga seventeen years earlier.

The success was well deserved. The miniseries is now available on DVD, and I have recently watched it for comparison with these books. With due allowance for advances in TV production standards—especially sound recording—over this past twenty years, the TV adaptation is still excellent viewing. The casting is superb, drawing from the great mid-twentieth-century generations of British and Anglo- Indian actors. Peggy Ashcroft is there, and Eric Porter (a Forsyte veteran), and many younger performers, some of whom—Art Malik, Charles Dance, Geraldine James—were made famous by this production. This, one found oneself thinking, watching the miniseries, is what TV is for: the meticulous reproduction of good, long, middlebrow fiction. This justifies the medium, if anything can...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Persecuted by Aliens

Ananova:

A Bosnian man whose home has been hit an incredible five times by meteorites believes he is being targeted by aliens.

Experts at Belgrade University have confirmed that all the rocks Radivoje Lajic has handed over were meteorites.

They are now investigating local magnetic fields to try and work out what makes the property so attractive to the heavenly bodies.

But Mr Lajic, who has had a steel girder reinforced roof put on the house he owns in the northern village of Gornja Lamovite, has an alternative explanation.

He said: "I am obviously being targeted by extraterrestrials. I don't know what I have done to annoy them but there is no other explanation that makes sense. The chance of being hit by a meteorite is so small that getting hit five times has to be deliberate."

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Worst Movies of All Time

Joe Queenan:

The release of the Paris Hilton vehicle The Hottie and the Nottie has revived the debate as to which is the worst motion picture ever made. Because the film logged in with some of the worst receipts in history - $250 per screen on opening weekend - there is a temptation to accord it the mythical status of such universally ridiculed motion pictures as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or Plan 9 From Outer Space, to welcome it into the dark, Bizarro World pantheon inhabited by phantasmagoric disasters such as Showgirls, Ishtar, Heaven's Gate, Battlefield Earth, The Postman and, most recently, Gigli and Swept Away...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology

A fine episode of William F. Buckley's long-running political debate show Firing Line, from 1985, featuring political scientist Kenneth Minogue on the subject of his book Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology, is available in full on YouTube

related: A superb summation of the book's central argument is contained in this review by Joseph Sobran, who also featured in the Firing Line programme:
The word "ideology" has suffered so much abuse that it has become little more than a term of abuse. I have principles, you have an ideology. Kenneth Minogue tries to restore a useful clarity in Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology.

As Minogue sees it, Karl Marx invented ieoelogy in the modern sense. The Enlightenment had bequeathed a double tradition of social and polotical theorizing. On the one hand, idealistic reformers sought to organize society rationally. On the other, economists were fascinated by the way society took shape from the unintended consequences of numberless spontaneous human actions. Marx brought these two styles of thought together in a radically new way.

Not only social forms but ideas themselves were, for Marx by-porducts of economic interests. Minogue is far from the first to point out the inherent difficulty with this theory: "The proposition 'material conditions determine ideas' is itself an idea." If it is itself only a part of the process, how can "scientific socialism" be a comprehensive account of the process?

From the beginning Marxism has been intellectually vitiated but rhetorically enabled by its ambiguous status as a science. It purports to explain man's alienation exclusively in terms of impersonal economic structures, yet its power to move its votaries comes from its fiery moral animus agants "capitalism." Against the politician it claims the authority of an academic discipline, while it scorns theoretical rivals for lacking its own political engagement and sophistication. Even as it lays claim to being a science, it has invested charismatic authority in a series of leaders, beginning with Marx himself, who have excommunicated heretics, including dissident Marxists, with verbal and often physical violence.

Minogue sees these paradoxes not as hitches in Marxist ideology but as part of its essence. He defines an ideology as "any doctrine which presents the hidden and saving truth about the evils of the world in the form of social analysis." He adds: "Its is a feature of all such doctrines to incorporate a theory of the mistakes of everyone else."

The "ideologist"--Marxist, feminist, nationalist, racist--interprets the world holistically as a field of power, divided between oppressors and oppressed. The oppressors typically mask their oppression with "mystifications" that fool themselves as well as their victims. The key to "liberation" is to realize that this is the situation...
continued

50 Weird Science Titbits & Oddities

Science News Review

New Glasses Can Find Lost Car Keys

Ananova.com:

Scientists have invented a pair of glasses that will help you remember where you put your car keys.

The Smart Goggle records everything the wearer sees - and can recognise objects...

Inventor Yasuo Kuniyoshi and his team at Tokyo University have created the world's most advanced object recognition software.

If a user initially tells the glasses the name of everything he or she looks at, the glasses will remember.

They can then locate the last time the object was seen if it is misplaced, and replay the footage.

In the future, the glasses will be more intelligent than the wearer, able to identify objects their owner doesn't even recognise.

In theory, the only question that the glasses will not be able to answer is: "Where have I put my glasses?".

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Philosophy of Science

Jeffrey Kasser's brilliant, thought-provoking 36 lecture series on the Philosophy of Science can be purchased and downloaded here. Course outline:

"Science can't be free of philosophy any more than baseball can be free of physics." With this bold intellectual swing for the fences, philosopher Jeffrey L. Kasser launches an ambitious and exciting inquiry into what makes science science, using the tools of philosophy to ask:

Why is science so successful?

Is there such a thing as the scientific method?

How do we distinguish science from pseudoscience?

Is science rational, cumulative, and progressive?
Focusing his investigation on the vigorous debate over the nature of science that unfolded during the past 100 years, Professor Kasser covers important philosophers such as Karl Popper, W. V. Quine, Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Imre Lakatos, Carl Hempel, Nelson Goodman, and Bas van Fraassen.

All of these thinkers responded in one way or another to logical positivism, the dominant movement influencing the philosophy of science during the first half of the 20 th century. Logical positivism attempted to ground science exclusively in what could be known through direct experience and logic.

It sounds reasonable, but logical positivism proved to be riddled with serious problems, and its eventual demise is an object lesson in how truly difficult it is—perhaps impossible—to secure the logical foundations of a subject that seems so unassailably logical: science.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Descartes

Simon Blackburn reviews Descartes, A.C. Grayling's new biography of the founder of modern philosophy:

You need not be much of a mathematician to know of Cartesian coordinates. And even people who have only a slender acquaintance with philosophy have often heard of “Cogito ergo sum” — I think therefore I am. They may even have heard of Cartesian skepticism and Cartesian dualism, and may know that it was in the course of pursuing the first, and establishing the second, that Descartes relied on his famous remark. The brilliant, enigmatic Frenchman whose name is thus remembered comes vividly to life in this fascinating new biography, by one of Britain’s foremost literary figures and philosophers...
read all

related: A.C. Grayling discusses Descartes' 'Cogito' with Nigel Warbuton in an excellent edition of the Philosophy Bites podcast

Free audiobook version of Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy: here

The God Particle

Good feature article by Joel Achenbach in the latest National Geographic:
If you were to dig a hole 300 feet straight down from the center of the charming French village of Crozet, you'd pop into a setting that calls to mind the subterranean lair of one of those James Bond villains. A garishly lit tunnel ten feet in diameter curves away into the distance, interrupted every few miles by lofty chambers crammed with heavy steel structures, cables, pipes, wires, magnets, tubes, shafts, catwalks, and enigmatic gizmos.

This technological netherworld is one very big scientific instrument, specifically, a particle accelerator-an atomic peashooter more powerful than any ever built. It's called the Large Hadron Collider, and its purpose is simple but ambitious: to crack the code of the physical world; to figure out what the universe is made of; in other words, to get to the very bottom of things...
read all

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Voices of the Dead

Terry Teachout reviews a new history of Stalin's Great Terror:

Why are so many Americans unaware that Joseph Stalin was as brutal, systematic and effective a killer as Adolf Hitler? One reason is because so much of the Old Left looked the other way at Stalin’s nefarious activities, and was unwilling later on to admit that it had done so. Another is that the Soviet Union remained a closed society long after the killing stopped, making it vastly more difficult for interested Westerners to study the Great Terror in the way that the Holocaust became a subject of detailed historical inquiry...

Will this situation continue? Now that the Old Left is dying out, it has become somewhat more acceptable for American academics to study the Great Terror and report on it in a straightforward way, which doubtless explains the publication of The Voices of the Dead: Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s, a new book by Hiroaki Kuromiya, a professor of history at Indiana University.

For the past several years, Kuromiya has been examining the files of the secret police in Kiev, which in the 30’s was the Soviet Union’s third-largest city. (Now it is part of the independent state of Ukraine, whose rulers are more willing than their opposite numbers in Moscow to let outsiders study what Stalin wrought.) Like all bureaucrats, the killers of Kiev kept detailed records of their activities, right down to the late-night death warrants that were signed minutes before their prisoners were hustled out of their cells, shot in the nape of the neck and dumped into mass graves...

The people we meet in The Voices of the Dead are ordinary Soviet citizens: workers, peasants, homemakers, teachers, priests, musicians, soldiers, pensioners, ballerinas, beggars.” All they had in common was that they ran afoul of Stalin’s killing machine. Many appear to have been tortured before being sent to the execution chamber. Some confessed to crimes that they may or may not have committed, while others went to their graves swearing that they had done nothing wrong..

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Great Albums: "More Songs About Buildings and Food" by Talking Heads

Robert Christgau:
Here the Heads become a quintet in an ideal producer-artist collaboration - Brian Eno contributes/interferes just enough. Not only does his synthesized lyricism provide flow and continuity, it also makes the passive, unpretentious technological mysticism he shares with the band real in the aural world.. Every one of these eleven songs is a positive pleasure..

Mark Steyn on "Conversations with History"

Interesting hour-long interview from University of California TV, part of the Conversations with History series of interviews:

Host Harry Kreisler welcomes writer/critic Mark Steyn, the 2007 Nimitz Lecturer at Berkeley. Focusing on his new book, "America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It," they discuss Europe and America's relations with the Islamic world. They also talk about the craft of writing in a multi media globalized world.
Watch video or download podcast here

The Velvet Underground: Live at the Gymnasium NYC, 1967

Don't know how long the link will stay good, but you can download mp3s here of a just-discovered, good sound quality, complete Velvet Underground concert recording from 1967, the only known live Velvets material from that year.

Tracklisting (ripped from bootleg vinyl):

Side One

1 I'm Not A Young Man Anymore [A previously unknown song]
2 Guess I'm Falling In Love
3 I'm Waiting For My Man
4 Run, Run, Run

Side Two

1 Sister Ray [19-minutes long, first ever performance]

I Am a Strange Loop

Douglas Hofstadter, Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science at Indiana University discusses his latest book I Am a Strange Loop on the Standford Philosophy Talk show:

What is it? Can a self, a consciousness, an "I" arise out of mere matter? If it cannot, then how can you or I be here? And if it can, how does THAT work? These and other questions of identity are central to I Am A Strange Loop, the latest book by Indiana University Philosopher Douglas Hofstadter, author of the acclaimed Godel, Escher, Bach. He joins hosts John Perry and Ken Taylor for a probing discussion of the self, the soul, and the strange loop that binds them.
Show can be streamed or downloaded here

Turning Point for Missile Defense

Rich Lowry:

Somewhere 130 miles above the Pacific Ocean, tumbling around the Earth at 17,000 mph, a disabled spy satellite met a fiery end late Wednesday night -- destroyed by a U.S. missile-defense interceptor.

The spectacular hit marks a definitive turn in the debate concerning missile defense, from whether it's technically possible to whether it's ethically desirable. Many of the same people who had argued for years that missile defense couldn't be done now will complain that it constitutes a nefarious "weaponizing of space."...

Conceived in Liberty

Murray Rothbard's four volume, 1,668 pages, epic history of America from the colonial period to the American Revolution, Conceived in Liberty, which was originally published in 1975, is being serially released in audiobook form by the von Mises institute. Up to Part 8 of Volume 1 completed so far.

Robert Klassen summarizes the book here

download here

Did Hitler Draw Disney Characters?

Daily Telegraph:

The director of a Norwegian museum claimed yesterday to have discovered cartoons drawn by Adolf Hitler during the Second World War.

William Hakvaag, the director of a war museum in northern Norway, said he found the drawings hidden in a painting signed "A. Hitler" that he bought at an auction in Germany...

The Risk of Recognizing Kosovan Independence

Pat Buchanan:

When the Great War comes, said old Bismarck, it will come out of "some damn fool thing in the Balkans."

On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip shot the archduke and heir to the Austrian throne Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, setting in motion the train of events that led to the First World War.

In the spring of 1999, the United States bombed Serbia for 78 days to force its army out of that nation's cradle province of Kosovo. The Serbs were fighting Albanian separatists of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). And we had no more right to bomb Belgrade than the Royal Navy would have had to bombard New York in our Civil War.

We bombed Serbia, we were told, to stop the genocide in Kosovo. But there was no genocide. This was propaganda. The United Nations' final casualty count of Serbs and Albanians in Slobodan Milosevic's war did not add up to 1% of the dead in Mr. Lincoln's war...
David Warren:

Readers with exceptionally tenacious memories will recall that this pundit was opposed to the NATO intervention in Kosovo nine years ago. This may come as a surprise to readers without tenacious memories, since it is widely believed that I never saw a war I didn't like. Yet, believe it or not, I was opposed not only to the wanton bombing of Serbia, but also to the whole "inevitable" project of carving a new European Muslim state out of the flesh of that Orthodox Christian country.

I was not without sympathy for the "plight of the Kosovars," however. Like virtually all journalists at that time, not of Serbian ethnicity, I fell for a great deal of typically Balkan propagandist rubbish that has since been quietly withdrawn.

My rule of thumb, on wars, is to fight them with your enemies, when absolutely necessary; but never with your friends, and in particular, never in order to create new enemies. True, as we all know from personal experience, sometimes your friends are more irritating than your enemies, and the temptation to bomb them is always there. It is a temptation that must be resisted, however...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Europe's Slow-Motion Suicide

National Review:

Europe is in a bad way. And as studly as he can be, Nicolas Sarkozy isn’t likely to save it from itself. So Bruce Thornton argues as he shines a bright light on suicidal tendencies across the pond. Thornton, a professor of classics and the humanities at the California State University at Fresno argues in his new book Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow-Motion Suicide.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: What was the first sign that Europe was suicidal?

Bruce Thornton: If we take just the period after World War II, I’d say the collaboration and support of Communism and the Soviet Union on the part of many European intellectuals and politicians, coupled with hysterical anti-Americanism, was an important sign that European civilization was intellectually and morally bankrupt. The failure to see the true nature of Communism — that it is an ideology diametrically opposed to all the ideals of liberal democracy Europeans touted and enjoyed — bespeaks a suicidal collapse of certainty in the rightness of Western Civilization’s achievements, particularly respect for the individual, human rights, and political freedom. More recently, the flacid response to jihadist terror and European Muslim aggression against those same ideals also signifies an exhausted civilization unwilling to defend itself, and resentful of those like the United States who will...
update: Bruce Thornton discusses his book with Peter Robinson in the latest episode of Uncommon Knowledge

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Clash of Civilizations Revisited

New essay from Fouad Ajami, at the New York Times Book Review:

It would have been unlike Samuel P. Huntington to say “I told you so” after 9/11. He is too austere and serious a man, with a legendary career as arguably the most influential and original political scientist of the last half century — always swimming against the current of prevailing opinion.

In the 1990s, first in an article in the magazine Foreign Affairs, then in a book published in 1996 under the title “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” he had come forth with a thesis that ran counter to the zeitgeist of the era and its euphoria about globalization and a “borderless” world. After the cold war, he wrote, there would be a “clash of civilizations.” Soil and blood and cultural loyalties would claim, and define, the world of states...
related: The unabridged 16-hour audiobook version of "The Clash of Civilizations" can be purchased for download here

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Are Biotech Enhancements a Threat to the Authentic Self?

Ronald Bailey:

One of the perennial concerns of conservative bioethicists like Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama is that some portion of humanity will rush to adopt various biotech enhancements to their detriment. In his essay "Disenchantment," from Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life, University of Sheffield philosopher David Owens worries about the problems that future neuro-enhancements will pose.

Owens posits this case: You have developed some nagging doubts about your partner's fidelity. Although you sometimes think your doubts are irrational, you remember certain lingering looks at parties, and your happiness is spoiled. You're not the sort to hire a private detective, but you have heard of a new pharmaceutical, the anti-doubt pill, Credon. Credon lulls your suspicious nature, but doesn't make you gullible to car sales people. It works only in the context of intimate relationships. The manufacturer does warn that Credon has sometimes generated excessive trust between lovers. So off you go to "The Pharmacy of the Future" for Credon...

The Dean's List: 2007

Venerable rock critic Robert Christgau's "Dean's List" for 2007 is now online

Here's the top 25 (minus 2 Lil' Wayne mixtapes that are not in general release):

1. M.I.A.: Kala
2. Gogol Bordello: Super Taranta!
3. Tabu Ley Rochereau: The Voice of Lightness
4. Arcade Fire: Neon Bible
5. Lucinda Williams: West
6. Miranda Lambert: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
7. Lily Allen: Alright, Still [U.S. version]
8. Rilo Kiley: Under the Blacklight
9. Burial: Untrue
10. Against Me!: New Wave
11. Fountains of Wayne: Traffic and Weather
12. Youssou N'Dour: Rokku Mi Rakka (Give and Take)
13. The Apples in Stereo: New Magnetic Wonder
14. Les Savy Fav: Let's Stay Friends
15. Wussy: Left for Dead
16. Balkan Beat Box: Nu Med
17. Bright Eyes: Cassadaga
18. Imperial Teen: The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band
19. White Stripes: Icky Thump
20. Fanfare Ciocarlia: Queens and Kings
21. Jill Scott: The Real Thing
22. Babyshambles: Shotter's Nation
23. Soulja Boy: Souljaboytellem.com
24. Wu-Tang Clan: 8 Diagrams
25. Go! Team: Proof of Youth

The Moral Instinct

Steven Pinker's latest essay for New York Times Magazine:

Which of the following people would you say is the most admirable: Mother Teresa, Bill Gates or Norman Borlaug? And which do you think is the least admirable? For most people, it’s an easy question. Mother Teresa, famous for ministering to the poor in Calcutta, has been beatified by the Vatican, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and ranked in an American poll as the most admired person of the 20th century. Bill Gates, infamous for giving us the Microsoft dancing paper clip and the blue screen of death, has been decapitated in effigy in “I Hate Gates” Web sites and hit with a pie in the face. As for Norman Borlaug . . . who the heck is Norman Borlaug?

Yet a deeper look might lead you to rethink your answers. Borlaug, father of the “Green Revolution” that used agricultural science to reduce world hunger, has been credited with saving a billion lives, more than anyone else in history. Gates, in deciding what to do with his fortune, crunched the numbers and determined that he could alleviate the most misery by fighting everyday scourges in the developing world like malaria, diarrhea and parasites. Mother Teresa, for her part, extolled the virtue of suffering and ran her well-financed missions accordingly: their sick patrons were offered plenty of prayer but harsh conditions, few analgesics and dangerously primitive medical care...
read all

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Woman Prosecuted for Selling Toys on Ebay

Another day, another story of enterprise-destroying constraints placed on voluntary productive exchange by zealous, self-serving bureaucrats:

Mary Jo Pletz was really, really good at eBay. But now the former stay-at-home mother and Internet retailer fears a maximum $10 million fine for selling 10,000 toys, antiques, videos, sports memorabilia, books, tools and infant clothes on eBay without an auctioneer's license...
Philly.com

update: Radley Balko comments:

The state of Pennsylvania has shut down the eBay business of Mary Jo Pletz, who started the endeavor so she could earn money at home while caring for daughter, who had developed a brain tumor.

Not content with merely running her out of business, state officials are also prosecuting her. One inspector who visited her home threatened that they were "drawing a line in the sand."

Her crime? Selling goods on the Internet without an "auctioneer's license." Weirdly, they're also threatening to take away her dental hygienist's license.

Mohammed - The Successful Hitler

Was Mohammed a Hitler who succeeded? Yes, says Islam scholar Andrew Bostom. Comments author Lawrence Auster:

The idea is quite simple. It's that Muhammad created a supremacist hate movement of world conquest that lasted, that is with us permanently, that is still effective, that has a billion followers, that keeps attracting more people to it, and that keeps getting non-followers of it (like Dinesh D'Souza) eagerly to cringe and surrender to it, while Hitler's supremacist hate movement of world conquest burned itself out and was destroyed in 12 years, leaving its home country and capital a smoking ruin. Why the difference? Because Muhammad worked out a highly flexible and therefore sustainable ideology and program of subversion, conquest, and domination (as well as a sustainable way of life), while Hitler's ideology and program had no internal brakes. It was pedal to the metal, aiming at the instant and total destruction of other countries and of Western civilization as a whole, and thus making it necessary for other countries utterly to destroy Hitlerism

Dr. Bostom has recently researched the deep connections between Islam and Nazism. His underlying point is that, far from today's radical Islam being some offshoot of Nazism and Fascism, as the neocons suggest with their irresponsible and mind-destroying phrase "Islamo-fascism," Nazism can reasonably be seen as a short-lived, unsuccessful version of Islam. Not that Nazism developed out of Islam, but that it had profound similarities to Islam, especially with regard to its stand toward the Jews. The Nazi leaders, as well as Nazi intellectuals such as the SS theoretician and exterminationist propagandist Johannes von Leers (who advocated the elimination of every Jew on earth), became aware of their common ground with Islam and explored it in depth, in addition to forming political alliances with Islam. Indeed, von Leers came to believe that Islam was superior to Nazism, and converted to Islam after the war.

Scientists Accidentally Improve Man's Memory

from The Independent:

Scientists performing experimental brain surgery on a man aged 50 have stumbled across a mechanism that could unlock how memory works.

The accidental breakthrough came during an experiment originally intended to suppress the obese man's appetite, using the increasingly successful technique of deep-brain stimulation. Electrodes were pushed into the man's brain and stimulated with an electric current. Instead of losing appetite, the patient instead had an intense experience of déjà vu. He recalled, in intricate detail, a scene from 30 years earlier. More tests showed his ability to learn was dramatically improved when the current was switched on and his brain stimulated...