31 May, 2004

28 May, 2004

land of the free

Report: 1 in 75 U.S. Men in Prison

I always knew it was pretty bad, but not THAT bad...
As usual AssKKKroft thought it was a good sign... "unprecedented safety?"
Not while your pigs roam the streets, mister...

But Attorney General John Ashcroft (news - web sites) said the
report shows the success of efforts to take hard-core criminals
off the streets.

"It is no accident that violent crime is at a 30-year low while
prison population is up," Ashcroft said. "Violent and recidivist
criminals are getting tough sentences while law-abiding Americans
are enjoying unprecedented safety."

27 May, 2004

I got mine in the mail yesterday

My full-sized picture of W and his wife, with a signature and
letter urging me to send in my contribution for his re-election
(I mean re-selection) campaign. It came with a pre-addressed,
postage-paid envelope. My advisor filled it out : $0, and returned
it in the envelope provided.

Should I follow suit? It doesn't seem like the most vengeful thing
I could do...

No clucking way

Okay, these two are both 9.9 on the Weird-Shit-O-Meter.

To start off light (but bizarre), there's this old story that I picked up thanks to the Boondocks, about an incident where Condi Rice, at a dinner with some high-ranking New York Times types, let slip the following:
Rice was reportedly overheard saying, “As I was telling my husb—” and then stopping herself abruptly, before saying, “As I was telling President Bush.”

Now, I don't seriously believe that Condi Rice and Bush are secretly married, but then again, I KIND OF DO! I mean, wouldn't that explain a whole lot of things? Their apparent closeness? His desire to protect her from public scrutiny? The fact that no one could seriously be married to Laura Bush for so long? And when you think about it, that sort of thing is exactly what the Republicans would want to hide... I mean, what self-respecting conservative racist would tolerate a misceginating president?

But, that's not NEARLY as weird as THIS huge bombshell:
"Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program (ICP) information to provoke the United Sates into getting rid of Saddam Hussein," said an intelligence source who was briefed on the conclusions of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

In other words, that whole Iraq War thing? That occupation? That was the IRANIANS setting us up! HOLY COW! And all this time we thought it was a neo-conservative grab for oil and power!

The Dark Continent

Growing up I remember all the furor over "killer" bees, a dangerous, aggressive breed of bee that was slowly migrating up from South America, and would soon be overrunning the United States and killing small children as they played in their backyards. These bees were also called "Africanized" bees, because they were hybrids between an African strain and a European strain.

The racial politics in all of this should be obvious: the threat of migration/invasion from the south, the danger of miscegination, the tie between "killer", "aggressive" and "African". It's really pretty amusing, in a cartoonishly-racist sort of way.

That said, I give you the African clawed frog, an "aggressive" breed of frog that is going to overrun San Francisco and is threatening the ecosystem there. Honestly, there must be a back room where people plan these things.

23 May, 2004

score one for Kerry

While in general I feel that, well, johnkerryisadouchebagbutimvotingforhimanyway.com, his reaction to Bush's falling off his bike was pretty good.
"Did the training wheels fall off?"
This was off the record, but reporters thought it was funny enough to pass it along anyway to the Drudge report.

21 May, 2004

"The Iraqi people have been in training and now it's time for them to take the bike and go forward."

This statement was made by Rep. Deborah Price of Ohio, paraphrasing President George W. Bush.
Especially ironic given the other major headline of the day, the slaughter of an Iraqi wedding party (including the bride, groom, women and children, and a famous Iraqi wedding singer) by arial bombardment and helicopter gunfire, accompanied by a complete refusal on the part of American generals to acknowledge their mistake. What must Iraq think of our arrogance? What, indeed, have we taught them, other than that we are full with the sin of pride?

"Bad things happen in wars," said Major-General James Mattis, the U.S. Marine commander in charge of occupation forces in western Iraq. "These were more than two dozen military-age males. I don't have to apologize for the conduct of my men."

This is what the Greeks called "hubris". I can only hope that there are no Gods, because the retribution for the measure of our pride should be cataclysmic.

19 May, 2004

Obesity rant #2 of ...

Dan Savage linked to the author of a book called the Obesity Myth, which assures us that we have nothing to worry about and obesity is not a problem. When I read this, I can't help but think of a time when I went camping with my folks, and we were situated next to another camper who was roughly the size of an elephant seal, and probably had considerable difficulty in seeing his toes. I don't mean to poke fun at this man, or to cast blame on him, but I DO think that his condition is problematic.

As a biologist I find it inarguable that being overweight has dire consequences, relating mostly to type 2 diabetes and heart disease. But I think obesity in this country is symptomatic of another, larger problem, which is the general decay of the American diet.

In most societies the population spends eons cultivating a diet that agrees with their temperament, environment, and lifestyle. It's natural that over the course of many hundreds of years a traditional diet will become refined, so that we should not be surprised when we find that people who eat traditional diets live longer, healthier lives. The Indian diet that I am accustomed to eating and was raised on is, I think, extremely healthy, has superbly balanced meals and augments the diet with spices of unknown pharmacological powers (e.g. turmeric!). I do not think this is an accident.

By contrast, the American diet has not evolved along such a course. Rather, it's evolution has been dictated mostly by the profit motive, especially as the agricultural sector has shrunk and food has become the province of large corporations. Home-cooked food is a rarity; purchased prepared meals are the norm. Prepared foods cannot possibly be as healthy as home-cooked food. For one, much of the nutritional value of food decays over time. Additionally, the ingredients in prepared foods are generally of lower quality and are designed to maximize shelf-life and prevent spoilage rather than for human health.

There's nothing more disgusting than a Hamburger Helper commercial, urging you to "save time", and relax after your hard day at work with a "convenient" meal, at the expense of your children, who will lap up the pre-packaged slop and grow increasingly unhealthy as a result.

Americans are notoriously ignorant when it comes to nutrition. In the whole of my educational career, I had exactly two weeks of formal education on the subject of nutrition. I can hardly remember what I learned, but suffice it to say that, whatever I was taught, it was certainly not enough. Perhaps this has changed since then, but I highly doubt it. Parents are also remarkably ignorant, especially since I continue to see so many buying their children soda, which is just about the worst thing you could possibly do for your child. Even just high-fructose corn syrup goes instantly into the blood, causes your blood sugar level to skyrocket, and causes your body to immediately begin converting that excess sugar into fat. Obesity in a bottle. And the list of ills of soda could occupy pages on its own. But judging by the volume of soda kids consume, parents seem to be unaware of its severe problems.

Meanwhile, many companies make lots of money. Kraft Macaroni is cheap and easy to manufacture, lasts forever and ships easily. The concommitant loss in public health is an externality that the industry does not have to bear. But America is obviously feeling the effects.

I rant in this space because I don't imagine anyone is interested in turning this around the way it SHOULD be turned around. The state of American agriculture, of American eating habits, and of American awareness of nutrition, need to be turned around. These are all battles that are difficult to fight, and selling diet tapes is so much more profitable...

14 May, 2004

Does the Alfred W. McCoy read this blog?

Uh... so this story in the Boston Globe follows pretty much along the lines of the torture piece I wrote here a while ago. Weird. Oh well, at least someone agrees with me... perfectly.

Are you an asshole on purpose?

on the RAPE and TORTURE at Abu Ghraib by U.S. "liberators" ...

Tom DeLay, R-Texas: "...some people are overreacting. The people who are against the war are using this to their political ends"

Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma: "I have to say I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment. The idea that these prisoners, you know they're not there for traffic violations. If they're in cellblock 1A or 1B these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents, many of them probably have American blood on their hands, and here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals."

Rush Limbaugh, Fat Drug Addict Idiot: "This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we're going to ruin people's lives over it, and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You [ever] heard of need to blow some steam off?"

Rush, please don't EVER EVER blow off steam anywhere near me.

13 May, 2004

I am disturbed

that the video of the beheading of Nick Berg is floating around on the internet and people seem so interested in downloading and watching it. Or, at the very least, people are posting it on a website because "the public has a right to know" and they think there are a lot of people interested in watching it. Something about that creeps me out.

But I wonder also where the line must drawn. I take no pleasure in viewing pictures of corpses but I think it's important people are aware of what is happening in our world, especially if it's a result of what our country is doing. I think people need to know so they know what they're supporting when they say "yeah, we should invade ___;" "yeah, bomb them to the Stone Ages," "yeah, our boys are just defending themselves," "yeah, let's go liberate some Iraqis." People need to see these pictures to know how things translate to people on the ground. At the same time I don't think people should become desensitized to the violence.


I am so disgusted that I can't really convey it in words. If somehow I could vomit onto this blog it might convey the depths of my disgust.

I'm disgusted by self-righteous back-patting (e.g. here)over our wonderful democracy. Why is democracy so great? Because, after we killed 10,000 civilians and tortured hundreds of others, some of us feel bad about it. Gee fucking wowie. Thank god for democracy, where we pause and say, "Huh, that wasn't so nice," after committing the same crimes as our favorite enemies. Our glorious leader refuses to apologize for the crimes of his intelligence agencies, but will wax melodic about how wonderful it is that people are making inquiries into "what went wrong". And here I imagined that the laudable goal would have been a society that didn't birth such evil mischief in the first place. Will someone tell me what school of morality condones the slaughter of 600 civilians as a punitive measure?

What's especially appalling is that the level of outrage is really NOT that high, if people can still praise the virtues of America after all this. Even a generation ago My Lai turned stomachs, but I heard nary a peep over the comparable level of slaughter in Fallujah.

May the wrath of God quickly wipe this sorry excuse for a nation off the face of the planet, and may the mere memory of its name forever inspire the same disgust I feel right now.

11 May, 2004


Well, dangit, as expected the wimpy Saudis caved and announced a production increase in oil. Prices fell accordingly. Though, I will note with glee, they didn't fall that far and remain well above $30, and people continue to mutter darkly about high demand and China. I'll keep my hopes up... or... down... I'm not sure which it is.

07 May, 2004

Oil hits $40

I hope you'll forgive me this opportunity to flex my Cassandra syndrome and chortle gleefully at the possibility of impending catastrophe. The price of oil reached $40 for the first time since 1991 and forced government faplaps to finally admit that yes, high oil prices could ultimately slow the economy. Even OPEC is distressed by high oil prices, since sustained high oil prices means conservation, i.e. fleeing from oil to other energy sources, which means loss of profits (though since they announced production cuts a month ago, maybe they have no one to blame but themselves).

I chortle gleefully because I'm an afficianado of the Peak Oil theory, which says that global oil production is going to peak sometime in this decade (and maybe already has), following which it will inevitably decline while demand continues to grow and oil price thus skyrockets and economies grind to a halt, followed eventually by agriculture and civilization (depending on how cranky you allow your theory to get). This theory gets short shrift from just about everyone for reasons I am unable to fathom, and it's somewhat gratifying to see evidence that it might come crashing down on the heads of all these doubting Thomases.

I'm going to milk this "I told you so" stuff for all its worth, since I'm clearly not going to get any other gratification out of life.

Update: Looks like Paul Krugman has joined the Cassandras. Although he's pretty wimpy about it. But I'll take any heavy-hitters I can get... gratification, here I come!

06 May, 2004

Neurobiology and Chopin's Funeral March

Every time I listen to the piece in question* I am struck by the fact that the listener is brought through a very specific range of emotions when listening to it. This is really a tribute to Chopin's genius, but what I find really striking is that his feat is even possible in the first place. Why is music so emotionally compelling? How can a specific passage make me weep, or feel hope, or feel light-hearted, or aggressive, etc.? Why is it that the same passage can produce the same effect regardless of who listens to it? Why do you know you're listening to a sad love song before the lyrics start?

I've been mulling over this for a couple of months now. Several explanations have been suggested to me. The first was that it's simply learned behavior: I've heard Chopin's Funeral March so many times I know it's supposed to be sad. This explanation is too B.F. Skinner for my tastes. I don't have to be told how to feel when I hear a new piece of music, the music speaks for itself. Similarly the explanation that I've absorbed some cultural instruction, been taught to associate particular intervals or progessions with specific emotions doesn't sit well - I can just as well listen to music from any culture and be swept along in its emotional currents. [NB - I apologize for my lack of proper terminology. I don't know a goddamn thing about music.]

Unfortunately the relevant fields seem to be dominated by idiots. For example, Steven Pinker (whom I consider to be a fuckwad) opines that music is "mental cheescake", a happy evolutionary accident that's simply an outgrowth of other developments, like language or some sorts of pattern recognition. Aside from the fact that I generally think Pinker is a boob, I find this claim outrageous. First of all, as usual Pinker has no evidence of any sort to back up his specious claims (and yet he gets so far in life - tragic). Second of all, it seems quite clear that music operates in very specific and complex ways on the brain. We only enjoy certain frequencies, rhythms, harmonies, and more stuff that I don't have words for. For all this to be the result of haphazard accident seems unlikely. Finally, music isn't tied to just one emotion; it's a full-on emotional language. These associations have to be intentional (e.g. God made us that way) rather than accidental. Thankfully nearly all other serious researchers in the field disagree with Pinker (who is a moron).

Then there's a crowd of hopeless dimwits attempting to pin naive evolutionary explanations on it, like "It's because of mating advantage that it evolved." Since our understanding of human evolution and the workings of the brain are incredibly primitive no one should even be hazarding a guess right now as to how something so complex evolved.

I'm gratified that there's a body of research at least confirming my observation (e.g. a lady named Carol Krumhansl from Cornell who does research on music cognition finds that music with quick tempo and a major scale makes people happy, and slow tempo and minor scale makes people sad). I'm going to try and read some of the relevant literature. Of course, anything interesting will be reported here.


*Sorry, I can't link to it. You can email me for an mp3.

03 May, 2004

another important aspect of abu ghraib torture

From the internal Army report, via the Washington Post, then Empire Notes:

Basic Army Doctrine was not widely referenced or utilized to develop the accountability practices throughout the 800th MP Brigade's subordinate units. Daily processing, accountability and detainee care appear to have been made up as the operations developed with reliance on, and guidance from, junior members of the unit who had civilian corrections experience….

So, the prison is amazingly abusive and they get their culture from...members of the unit who had civilian corrections experience? What does that say about US prisons?

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