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Un Obscura Laberinto
The Ocean is Troubled to its Depths
7th-Apr-2016 12:29 am - Avian Intelligence, Part I
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This is in response to Stuff to Blow Your Mind's episode The Unsettling Depths of Bird Intelligence, since they asked if any listeners had any experience or knowledge on the topic. (Yes, I sent them a message about this entry.) There's actually a lot of interesting stuff in that episode that I've been writing up a response to, so I hope to get that posted soon.

I have had some rather interesting and fun experiences with raising and taking care of ducks, which I have written about here several times. (You'll have to scroll down to the entry dated 15 September 2013 and everything previous. I apologize that all of the photos I'd posted no longer show up.) However, I would turn your attention specifically to the entry on 21 October 2012, then 25 August 2013 – you'll have to skip the first few paragraphs or so to get the duck discussion. And perhaps one paragraph in the entry on 29 April 2013: the second paragraph after the stand alone statement about updating on the ducks.

But there was a particularly significant event that I apparently, and shockingly, failed to write about that I want to share precisely because of its relevance to avian intelligence.
This is, of course, about the one duck who was surely the most intelligent of them all: Ella.

For the sake of those who might not already be familiar with my experiences taking care of ducks, some aspects of the background information needed to follow the story below will be included. (I don't apologize for any redundancy with previous entries.) I also need to set up the story for y'all, because otherwise you won't fully understand the one event I really want to point out.

Ella was one of six free range ducks already fully matured when I arrived on the property – 1:1 male to female. So not having raised them myself, I was a stranger for awhile. Once I'd started raising some ducklings and taking care of the adults, I tried to see if I could get the adults to become comfortable with me. It took awhile and a lot of patience, but eventually, Ella figured it out and would come right up and eat scratch grains out of the plastic cup while I held it and, importantly, while I was looking at her. I know that on her part she figured out that I was "safe" because of her intelligence. And I know this because, it didn't happen overnight, but happened gradually, as she would watch me, observe me, pay attention to me and what I was doing, while none of the other five adults bothered to do that. They knew that I fed them, of course, and gave them fresh bathing water regularly, but that never eased their instinctual suspicion.

This is something that I think is a mark of the degree of intelligence of an organism: whether and how much they can overcome, perhaps even deviate from, their instincts.

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(My exclamation of excitement is because I posted awhile ago the purely "homemade" video of Gasper Nali doing this song. I'm so glad to see him getting recognized. You have to understand why it's significant: Malawi is still one of the poorest nations in Afrika.)

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(The article is from the beginning of the month, so before Rubio was forced to drop out (which is unfortunate).)

"The chances of America entering a new ground war in the Middle East will significantly increase under a Republican president. Their style would be more forceful as they rely more on American military power as an instrument of change."

I don't think many supporters of Trump and Cruz stop to consider at all what the consequences would be if their stated intentions about Daish and other Islamist extremists were actually carried out. (There's a good reason you should call them Daish instead of IS or ISIS or ISIL: it's an insult, due to a play on words in Arabic.)

If you support Trump, then you support sending huge amounts of our sons and daughters into war, a ground war, not a war fought at a distance, but boots on the ground.

Want to try to guess how much money that's going to cost? Where do you think that money would come from, eh?

But the price tag gets higher.
Consider the fact that our incredible advancements in medical science have actually made it very difficult to die in war. Soldiers are surviving from injuries that we used to think would be impossible to survive.

To begin with, it'll cost a lot to get the all the medical needs set up over there on the ground to treat soldiers as quickly as possible. You need everything that the absolute best hospitals in the world have.
And, of course, you need the people working your war hospitals, and unlike normal hospitals, these won't ever be under-staffed, because these are the most efficient hospitals in the world.

Next, consider what it's going to cost in healthcare when these wounded soldiers come home and need continuing medical care, many of them for the rest of their lives. Remember that, if it's now more difficult to die in war, far more soldiers will survive, and thus, far more soldiers will come home with serious injuries that require a lot of medical attention over the following years, or for their entire lives. Where's the money for all of that going to come from?

Not to mention the psychological impacts that all of that will have on soldiers and their loved ones. Which means, of course, even higher healthcare costs for mental health. (One of the very, very sad consequences of so many soldiers actually surviving has been an incredible rate of suicides amongst them. That needs to change. Because that and any other psychological suffering that they don't get help for should not be the "thanks" they get for having fought for this country.)

The utter failure of people in this country to think about consequences and how things play out in the real world…

[Be careful what you ask for…]
17th-Mar-2016 01:41 pm - Drone Poetry
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Lynn Hill - 21st Century War Poet

"Lynn Hill was an active participant in both Iraq and Afghanistan. She spent much of her military career flying Predator drones, gathering intelligence and firing missiles remotely some 12,000 miles away - from a central station in Las Vegas.
Her brilliant poetry talks of the difficult task of separating her real life from her war life. About hate and insanity, violence and nihilism. About dreams and being involved in war via a screen. About seeing yourself in the third person. About some of the very serious problems faced by her 21st Century war colleagues - divorce, alcohol, psychiatric illness, crises of identity."
pion-muon decay
The current issue of Science has an open access special section on forensic science that will undoubtedly prove to be extremely interesting, so I highly recommend it:


Reading Larry Laudan's "Progress or rationality? The prospects for normative naturalism" (1987) while sitting in the vet's office this morning. The excerpt below, aside from making an excellent point, gave me a good chuckle, because for some reason I couldn't help but imagine zombies shuffling about, accidentally promoting scientific ends and thereby being rational.
One might try to defend the general approach I have criticized here by saying that, in claiming a certain scientist to be rational, we are not alluding to his ends, but rather to the ends constitutive of scientific enquiry. On this way of approaching the issue, an agent is rational only in so far as his actions tend to promote these general 'aims of science', even if his intentions (i.e. the aims driving his actions) were quite different from those of science. This analysis makes it possible for rationality to involve a good deal of sleep-walking, in that agents may promote 'the genuine ends of science' (and supposedly thereby be rational) without intending to do so. I have no trouble with the suggestion that agents often end up furthering ends quite different from those which motivated their actions. Indeed, this seems to me to be quite a salient point. But I cannot accept the violence it does to our usual notion of rationality, entailing among other things that agents who acted effectively so as to promote their ends may turn out to be irrational (viz. if their actions failed to promote 'the' ends of science), and that agents who dismally failed to act so as to promote their ends can turn out to be rational (specifically, when their inadvertently further the aims of science).

Hmm, can zombies be agents?
9th-Mar-2016 01:32 pm - Where the great ones tremble
Why did I forget how much I love Patti Smith?

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4th-Mar-2016 04:04 pm - Conned
Wow, I'm so glad I'm not the only one who thinks Trump is a con artist! Thank goodness!

Marco Rubio is right: Donald Trump is a con man

It's also worth pointing out: one of Trump's methods for riling up the public and trying to get them on his side is by pointing fingers at the ominous and sinister "they"!
Who's "they"?
Oh, that's right, it's "the establishment".
What exactly do you think you're talking about when you talk about "the establishment"?

Yeah, it's nice fiction, isn't it? When you need someone else to blame for… you know, stuff.
And when you want to take advantage of vulnerable people and manipulate them for your own selfish purposes.

"The biggest liar in the world is 'They Say'."
–the lumberman's poet, Douglas Malloch.
4th-Mar-2016 12:28 pm - Shame on America
Meant to get this posted sooner…
Perhaps worth pointing out a few things I said in a previous post.

New Yorker Politics and More Podcast: The Front Runners

Slate Political Gabfest: That really was a Super Tuesday

It truly boggles my mind how so many people in this country can blindly eat up every word Trump says, when he has a well-known record of lying and when there is blatant evidence that he lies. And it truly boggles my mind how so many people in this country can think that a deeply egotistical billionaire "identifies" with the common folk who are struggling and are tired of struggling, when, if he weren't running for office, he'd be calling all of you loser scum sucking the life out of the country. Or some other such stupid insult, which is about all he's good for.

Because Trump is the kind of character who thinks money is the only legitimate measure of a person: you're a winner, or a loser, and you only win if you're rich.
Not to mention that he pretty much admits that he thinks bribery and other such corruption is perfectly okay, since he has numerous times claimed to have "bought people off", because money gets you whatever you want.

So it utterly boggles my mind how so many people in this country can be so easily tricked and fooled when they proclaim that Trump is genuine and honest, and that he understands their anger and frustration and struggling. He's a goddamn billionaire, people, and an obnoxiously flamboyant and arrogant one at that; he does not understand you and your struggling and your frustration and your needs. It boggles my mind how people can fail to see that Trump, just like so many other politicians, is taking advantage of their high emotions and using and fueling those emotions in order to manipulate those people.

Because one thing Trump is not an idiot about is in knowing what the people he's dealing with want to hear, and he'll tell you whatever it is you need to hear in order for him to hook you.
He is fully taking advantage of how little some of the general population actually know and understand about politics and our particular political system, about the economy, about our recent history, and just about what goes on in general. And so he's lying to their faces, he makes things up, and yet so many people just take his word for it, whatever it is, because they don't know any better, and they put their trust in him. And in that sense, Trump is a con artist, and has conned a whole bunch of the American public. And what is worse is that he's managed to get them to con themselves, because every time Trump is criticized by anyone for anything, every time anyone points out negative and undesirable facts about him, Trump supporters leap forward ever more zealous.

Can't anyone see that Trump is planting in fertile grounds the kinds of seeds that grow into dangerous extremism?

It is truly sad that Trump has been able to drag the Republican Party to all time low in turning the nominee campaign into a campaign run on trading childish insults in a showdown of inflated egos.
I have never been in support of the Republican Party in any way, and nor can I imagine ever giving my support, and yet, even I, right now, feel embarrassed for the GOP.

And more broadly, I feel embarrassed for our whole country, that we have allowed and are allowing the campaign for our "highest" political office to be turned into a despicable mockery of itself.

But what I feel even more is fear about what this, and the support for someone who's not only completely lacking in the qualifications needed for being the leader of this country, but also, who's looking more and more like an unapologetic racist and misogynist, in addition to already being known for being a bully and a manipulative liar, reveals about what our country is becoming. Even if his support is much much smaller than he pretends and proclaims it to be, the fact that it's enough to get him this far is … I don't even know what words can capture this feeling.

It's like the scariest horror movie you can imagine, but worse, not just because it's real, but because it reminds us that the horrors of reality are nothing like how we imagine horror to be, and thus, they are able to creep up on us because we never see them coming and often don't even notice when they're already here, until it's much too late.

.there are things worse than death.
24th-Feb-2016 10:45 pm - Perhaps I am haunted by myself
17 December 2009

The other night, I dreamt of a woman bleeding to death.
Something weird happened, she was badly wounded, but far worse than we first realized, than we first thought.  Before I was aware of how bad it was, she, sitting on the ground, called out to me in a dazed, weakening voice, "Cheryl, I'm drowning in a pool of blood."  I turned around, and she was bleeding very badly, and I could tell she was losing blood too quickly, as she was mentally fading.  I knew then that it was too bad a wound and she was bleeding way too much, that she wasn't going to live.  She was scared, but at the same time, she was too weak and too out of it to panic or freak out or fight against death.  I felt bad, because in some way, I felt responsible, even though, in some sense, it was some weird accident.  I knew I couldn't save her – even if I tried to call an ambulance, there wasn't enough time.  In some way, it seemed that maybe she knew she was going to die, but she was accepting of it, that she knew it was too late, even though she was scared, and even though she didn't want to die.  Since I knew I couldn't save her, I wanted to comfort her.  I tried to just hold her, rocking her.  And I felt like, it was better this way, that she just go ahead and die, not because I wanted her to, not at all, but just, that it would be better, somehow.  So I just sat there with her, with my arms around her shoulders, her head resting on my chest, her arms around my waist, rocking her back and forth as she bled and slowly faded.

I woke before she died.

I wrote that in an email on that date.
I forgot all about that dream; but after reading what I wrote, it all came back vividly.
You might wonder, who was she? Well she wasn't anyone in particular whom I had known either then or before. In the context of the dream, she wasn't someone I knew and wasn't one of the people I was with. But, the moment I saw her, I felt an immediate awareness (knowledge) that, in some sense, in some way, she was mine. I will leave that to be vague and ambiguous, since it was a vague and ambiguous feeling in the dream; and I will only note that she didn't look all that different from me.
22nd-Feb-2016 03:42 pm - Bad news.
pion-muon decay


16th-Feb-2016 01:04 pm - *
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pion-muon decay
Goddammit. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-35521068
This is just disgusting. And people need to put the pressure on Facebook to take these people down and find ways to prevent this.
12th-Feb-2016 12:25 am - Doping in Kenya and fitness for sport
self inflicted
Athletics doping: Kenya misses Wada deadline

Well, so much for that theory that there's something special about Kenyan genetics that makes them such good runners. (Not that it was so scientifically viable a theory anymore anyway.)

It's worth remembering that that sort of theory was part of a larger theory about African genetics and sports abilities, as an attempt to explain why blacks, whether from Africa or not, dominate in sports. And of course, that theory was included / cited in arguments attempting to defend a biological basis for distinct human races.

It's also worth pointing out just how much racism is entrenched in that theory. First, it allowed whites to feel better about themselves, because then they could tell themselves that their inferior performance compared to blacks wasn't their fault. Second, it allowed whites to be dismissive of the hard work and determination of blacks to excel at something, and to be dismissive of the skill and ability those blacks built up for themselves. Third, it allowed whites to claim that this was [supposed] evidence of the inferior intelligence of blacks, since, if blacks are genetically "built" for sports, then sports (and physical labor, which would clearly be related because of physical capabilities in general) are all blacks are good for and capable of doing. (Of course, it's a dubious assumption that fitness for sports and intellectual fitness are mutually exclusive. In fact, we have a ton of evidence to the contrary. Additionally, what we now know about the brain actually gives us good reason to think there can and perhaps should be a connection between physical fitness and mental fitness.)

On the one hand, it's good that we're trying to take anti-doping very seriously now, and cracking down, and trying to stop doping, because, you know, cheating is wrong and unfair and it creates a lie.
On the other hand, I hate to think how this might fuel some racist sentiments. And yes, of course cheating is unfair, but what do we do and how do we think of it when significant aspects of the playing field – I mean that in a much larger, broader sense, beyond the world of sport – were already unfair (unjust) to begin with for those who chose to cheat?
11th-Feb-2016 03:12 pm - Einstein Proven Not Wrong, Again
pion-muon decay
Gravitational waves! Exciting!

LIGO Detects Gravitational Waves from Merging Black Holes

Occasionally, it's amazing the shit we humans are capable of doing.
pion-muon decay
I have to admit, I'm not sure how to make sense of this year's collective presidential campaign. I am sure the Republican Party back in D.C. is getting really nervous that Trump is getting so much support. And the Democratic Party might be slightly uneasy, but they're probably more just in a paralyzing state of "I don't know", about what to think, what to do, how to look to the future.
I also have to admit, I truly feel sorry for Jeb Bush right now; he's an experienced politician, and not a bad one, pretty chill, down to earth, and he should have gained a lot of people's support. (And I say that as someone who still would not have voted for him.) But he's suffering the strange circumstances, like a totally normal guy in the middle of an attack by a circus parade. As a very laid back and no drama kind of guy, he's no match for the clowns.

In a lot of ways, there's not really that much difference in views between Clinton and Sanders, but for utterly irrelevant reasons, a lot of people just feel negatively about Clinton, especially the younger crowd. So because people don't feel personally excited about Clinton, they flock to Sanders.
I'll be completely open about my opinions here:
I think that's irrational.

And I think one of the biggest problems is that people are thinking with their hearts – to use the metaphor in the air – and are not thinking with their brains! The question people need to be asking themselves is, What is the wise thing to do?

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10th-Feb-2016 01:38 am - Astro Noise
pion-muon decay
Shit, I really wish I could see this.

The New Yorker Politics & More Podcast: Laura Poitras' "Astro Noise" at the Whitney Museum
self inflicted
It's a common question, and a legitimate one. And a good one.
Because almost all of what was proposed it would give us and allow us to do hasn't happened, and much of it either can't or won't for some reason or another.

In fact, it would likely be hard to find someone, say, right off the street, or amongst the people you know, who has directly benefited from the Human Genome Project.
Genetically customized medical treatments are actually extremely rare. Genetically customized anything just isn't really there.

So, what the hell has the Human Genome Project really done for us?

Well, I offer an answer of a different kind from what most people are looking for, but of a kind I would argue is not only no less important, but extremely important:

Proof that there is no biological basis to the concept of 'race'.

And if that's all it ever really does for the majority of us, I'd say it was worth it. Because I dare say there is no other concept that has caused more suffering and more damage in the world.

Now, for a little humor on such a serious topic, I do recommend The Infinite Monkey Cage: What is race?
5th-Feb-2016 10:57 pm - Warping space and time
pion-muon decay
This is really beautiful, and a lot of other things for which I cannot, at the moment, come up with words for.

Skip ahead to about 1:17, to skip the intro.
5th-Feb-2016 05:59 pm - The need to belong
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As someone who has always felt like an outsider to all other humans, I have always had an impossibly hard time understanding the need most people feel to belong. But not just to belong to anything; rather, to belong to something that confers to you an identity. It is perhaps interesting that one's belonging to a family isn't enough; most people seem to need something more. It suddenly occurred to me to wonder if this need might come from the fact that we used to be hunter-gatherers. That is, for the overwhelming majority of the existence of humans, we lived in small communities that moved around, and our present day notion of "the family unit" didn't exist.
5th-Feb-2016 05:36 pm(no subject)
pion-muon decay
The only reason it seems like moral accountability can only be purchased by libertarian free will is because of an individualistic understanding of a person.
4th-Feb-2016 11:43 am - Poor little Donald, Part 2
Once again, Donald Trump proves to be a child. Because he didn't win the Iowa caucus, he's being a crybaby. And worse: he's calling the winner a cheater, and even threatening to sue(?). Gawd, it's sickening what a crybaby he is. And how amazingly fragile his inflated ego is.

My apologies for the lack of postings. It's an understatement to say that I am not doing well at all.
29th-Jan-2016 03:49 pm - Poor little Donald
Childish. Utterly childish. Poor little Donald Trump didn't want to take part in the debate because Megyn Kelly hurt his feelings!

I'm not sure a grown man could get any more childish than Donald Trump.

To Trump supporters: so you want a tantrum-throwing 6 year old for a president, eh? Well that says a lot about you.

The U.S. is literally the world's richest and most powerful country. We are the only superpower in the world right now. One of the ways we got here was through gaining the respect of the rest of the world. Trump has been contributing a great deal to why so many people around the world are increasingly losing respect for the U.S. Because he is turning this country into a slapstick circus sideshow – minus the talent. It's despicable and pathetic, and we should be ashamed.

Keep this in mind: when people lose respect for you, it's a hell of a lot harder to gain their respect back than it was to gain it in the first place.

And if you think you don't care what the rest of the world thinks of us, I suggest you take a serious look into just how much you yourself depend on our place in the global market. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
self inflicted
Interesting and informative. Scroll to 10:25 to skip the introductions.

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Because those bullshit and slanderous videos spread everywhere over the internet, got major headlines in a whole lot of media outlets, and the way this kind of shit usually works is that this follow-up news won't get nearly the same attention as the initial story last year. So everyone will just remember the bullshit slanderous lies, and so they will continue to be spread and passed on, and people will end up continually being disinformed about this. Please help to right the record on this. This is such an important issue. Because anti-abortion is just another form of the oppression of women, even more so for women of color and women who are financially below middle class.

Filmmakers who targeted Planned Parenthood face charges

(FYI: there's a video in the middle of the article that might automatically start playing when you get to it.) Planned Parenthood cleared, but 2 [anti-abortion activists] indicted over videos

I urge you to listen to this BBC Documentary podcast episode on how body parts are obtained for both research and for medical students in med school: The Resurrection Men
(Or, here is a link directly to the .mp3 file for it: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/5/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p02t7pm3.mp3)
22nd-Jan-2016 11:57 am - Black, Tattooed all I see…
Not sure why, but I've had this song stuck in my head for several days. (Not that it exactly reflects my life, but, …)
Sometimes I miss this era of music…
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16th-Jan-2016 09:13 pm - A rare post
pion-muon decay
I thought I was going to be skyping with a friend, so beforehand, I figured I'd make sure the lighting was okay – that my computer and myself were both angled in a way that allowed for the lighting to work okay, because my computer is right next to a window that gets the sunlight, and it was sunny out, so I wanted to make sure the angles didn't lead to me being whited out by the light. So I opened up the Photo Booth application to do that. Since I've only actually used Photo Booth maybe three or four times, I realized I'd never clicked on the "effects" button, and I was suddenly curious what "effects" there were. I chuckled at the "comic book" effect and couldn't resist clicking on it to check it out. I was purely curious just to see what it looked like, so I didn't think much of it when I clicked the button to snap a picture. I certainly didn't expect a sort of "unintentional" picture to end up being something I kind of liked.
So, it's a rare post when I actually post a picture of myself anymore.

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15th-Jan-2016 06:24 pm(no subject)
pion-muon decay
So, I mentioned the other day feeling vindicated when I hear or read about neuroscientists talking about things that I had suspected or inferred ought to be true:
Two articles, similar topic:
Neural reuse: a fundamental organizational principle of the brain
Neural reuse in the evolution and development of the brain: evidence for developmental homology?
14th-Jan-2016 06:34 pm - "Mein Kampf" Redux
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The copyright for Hitler's Mein Kampf just expired, putting the text into the public domain, which means it can be published in Germany again. (Republications and reprintings in Germany were forbidden by the Allies after the war, and the copyright was handed over to Bavaria.) In preparation, a group of historians with relevant specializations went through the text, line by line, and put together as thorough and as detailed as possible a collection of annotations and comments in order that a fully annotated version could be published as soon as the copyright expired. With their annotations included, the page count was more than doubled. Which gives you an idea of just how thorough and detailed they were.

New York Times article: http://nyti.ms/1PNGLD8
Politico article: http://www.politico.eu/article/hitlers-mein-kampf-back-on-sale-ausgabe-reprint-in-germany/

Obviously, a lot of people are upset by this, feeling it to be offensive, to put it mildly. The thing is, the offensiveness of the original text is precisely why I wholeheartedly support its republication, and even more so for this annotated version. Some people criticize the project because, they claim, it gives the impression that Hitler's ideas and his book have intellectual legitimacy and credence, that they "deserve" – whatever that means – to be part of an intellectual tradition and have a place in an ongoing intellectual discussion. I do see their point, and I would have likely said the same thing several years ago. But I think that line of reasoning is misguided and actually misses a much larger, more significant, and far more important point.

[I will get into that last point in a separate entry. Maybe. I wanted to go ahead and get this posted, because the trend for me lately has been that, the writing is so slow, because I have been doing really just horribly awful, extremely bad, so by the time I get through deeper philosophical stuff, a couple of months or more have passed. And at that point, why even bother posting? I probably have about 10-20 half finished entries that never got posted – actually, there's probably more than that – and will probably never be posted because they remain unfinished. Climate change, CRISPR, and more neuroscience have been in the works for months; given my current condition, I highly doubt those entries will ever get finished. I know, it's all extremely disappointing. Trust me, I have no idea why I even bother to continue living.]

Before going any further, I will direct your attention to another Politico article that caught my attention in the list of related articles. Because, at least in some sense and to some degree, this article is pretty much in line with what I wanted to say. It is on the Charlie Hebdo attack a year ago, what incited it, and more importantly, how the media, particularly here in the U.S., but also in Britain, failed horrendously in how they chose to [mis]report on it. It is written by a journalist who worked at Charlie Hebdo. It is a little long, but very well worth the read.


Back to Mein Kampf.
The very offensiveness of the work and its historical context is part of why I think it ought to be republished and reprinted, made openly available. It is disgusting, yes. It is painful, undoubtedly. It is something that a whole lot of people would rather just completely forget altogether, because the memories are horrific.
But we know how people are: forbidding something makes it alluring. And the last thing we need is to make it alluring, to give it a gloss of dangerous mystery, to give it a special status inviting a "cult following". And censorship often provides the censored with fodder to present themselves as being wronged – and they would be right – as victims of an oppressive force that should be fought against. (Of course the author here is long since dead, but 'the censored' can be anyone who identifies as a follower of Hitler's views, or something close enough to that.) And the ability to identify as victims often helps recruitment for fringe ideologies.

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13th-Jan-2016 10:57 pm - In Brussels after Paris
This was a very interesting and rather shocking at some points BBC Documentary Podcast: Molenbeek Through the Looking Glass. Molenbeek is a neighborhood in Brussels from which came the "frontman" and a few others who took place in the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. It is a predominantly Muslim neighborhood with a notorious reputation.
And here's a few more words about it from someone who lived there for nine years: Molenbeek Broke My Heart
12th-Jan-2016 05:43 pm - On the psychology of terrorism
This really is a great discussion about psychology in general – theorizing, theory-building and theoretical paradigm; real-world application to both explaining and understanding behavior in actual instances; and the practice of psychology as both an academic and scientific discipline. The terrorism stuff is surely quite interesting, especially with respect to real-world application; Horgan offers both criticisms of actual application and prescriptive recommendations for application; he even suggests the applicability to law enforcement in general, not just in dealing with terrorism.
But throughout the whole discussion, a lot of his comments and points are generalizable to other topics in psychology and psychology broadly.

Middle East Week Podcast: The Psychology of Terrorism

I like that his approach and methodology come off as both sensical and sensible. He is careful to distinguish as separate projects inquiries or research that ultimately have different goals, but superficially seem to be asking the same thing. One of his criticisms is that, failure to make such distinctions creates confusion and misguidance in the field. He highlights the need to distinguish between asking questions sparked by the desire to understand, and asking questions sparked by the demand to act. And it is the latter that he takes as the directive for his approach and methodology; because terrorism is the sort of thing that demands us to act, and action is the ultimate goal of his work. And I appreciate that he points out that his approach and methodology are partly the result of learning from past mistakes and errors. It is not at all common enough that experts and practitioners are willing to acknowledge, even to themselves, their mistakes.
8th-Jan-2016 10:10 pm(no subject)
pion-muon decay
I have to admit, and I'm sure this might sound arrogant to some, but I feel slightly vindicated every time I hear (or read) neuroscientists talking about things that confirm what I suspected, based on what little neuroscience I know and on reflection of my own or others' experiences.
Considering that I have no formal education in neuroscience, and I just learn what I can of my own accord – alongside several other areas of interest, not all of which are in the sciences – and I just spend a lot of time thinking about all of this stuff, I take that to be an accomplishment of some sort. Though it is a bit strange at times to find myself thinking, well of course! and obviously!, to more than a few things about the brain; and I find myself wondering why and how anyone thought something different. It's not always of brand new findings from current research; some of it is stuff that's been known for a little while, but that I'd never previously come across being discussed. But some of it does come out of newer research that I hear about, usually through one of the few science heavy neuroscience podcasts I follow, or one of several any-sciences podcasts that I follow.
And: that sort of accomplishment in the face of mental disorders I struggle with everyday.

Oh yeah, there's that.
Yeah, mentally, psychologically, I've been a complete wreck, and still am. Probably even getting worse.
Not that that matters anyway. I'm just drifting further and further out to sea…
7th-Jan-2016 09:15 pm - What do Milgram's experiments show?
spaces in between
Perhaps a more interesting question is, what do discussions of Milgram's experiments show?

A few years ago, Radiolab did a segment on Milgram's experiments, and it is worth listening to. Skip ahead to about 8 minutes in: http://www.radiolab.org/story/180103-whos-bad/
Obviously this is not scholarly discussion, but ordinary folk, but it's kind of fascinating to read through some of the comments on that piece.

I think it is fair to say that one thing discussions of Milgram's experiments show is the power of paradigm indoctrination and dogma in psychological research.
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200 years later, Percy Shelley's poetical essay on war and the state of humankind is finally revealed to the public world for the first time.

I always loved Shelley. Some of you may have noticed the Shelley poem on my profile "bio".

My apologies for failing to post anything lately. I have been severely struggling the past few weeks.
Writing bit by bit, if I can manage to muster anything at all. Trying to work on other projects. And of course, still always learning, as that seems the best distraction from depression and its destructive force.
4th-Nov-2015 06:06 pm - Plantains and Cassava
spaces in between
Podcast episodes well worth listening to, to further or start to educate yourself on gravely important global issues such as agriculture. Especially in our time when climate change is increasingly affecting our capabilities for growing food. And notice I said "increasingly affecting": this is not new; this has been happening for longer than you can probably guess; it's just getting a whole lot worse. But on the good side, communication and information sharing technology – like, you know, the internet – is also increasingly aiding our abilities to actually deal with these problems, attending to them more quickly, hopefully more effectively and with the help of more people getting involved. Not to mention, of course, the great advances in sciences and technology that we can utilize in solving these problems.

Biotechnology in Uganda (First half of the episode.)

A Life Saving Banana for Uganda (First half of the episode.)

Solutions for Cassava – Biofortification and Characterizing Disease Vectors

Cassava Part 2: History, Domestication; Biotech Virus Resistance

I should have more to say about these larger, global agricultural issues at some point.
22nd-Oct-2015 03:19 pm - Autism, A.I., and Torture
spaces in between
Being alive linked to autism! (The original blog post is actually a few years old, but it's not available at the original url.)

I highly recommend listening to the first half of this podcast episode: How attitudes to autism have changed Only the first half has to do with the autism stuff – especially for some of the very enlightening historical bits about autism.

A.I. and Robots
How far along do you think robotics and artificial intelligence are these days? How close do you think we really are to the science fiction image of robots and A.I.?
If you think we're getting close, think again.

We are still so very far from just getting artificial / robotic vision anywhere near to human vision. The significance of that ought not be underestimated. Robots would have to have something at least very, very close to, if not identical to, human vision, if they were to be anything even remotely like how we imagine them in science fiction.
Because we imagine – and want! – robots as seeing the same world of objects as we do. But you have to step back and realize and appreciate just how amazingly complicated our vision is, which you can only really see when you look at it from the perspective of neuroscience. Those who work in fields of robotics, particularly specializing in robotic vision, have consistently for decades had a hell of a time trying to develop even the most basic robotic vision. When you look at the neuroscience of visual perception, it immediately begins to become clear why. When you then start looking at that from the perspective of the evolution of the brain, it all really becomes clear.

So, with that in mind:

Pay particular attention to what's being said starting at about 7:35 in: BBC Documentaries: Revolutionaries: Artificial Intelligence The entirety is most certainly worth listening to. There are some audience member questions, too.

Then listen to: The Science Show: The hurdle for robots making sense of a 3D world

Now for the neuroscience! Skip ahead to 28:35 for a discussion on visual perception – pay careful attention, as it is discussed in the context of a recent experiment regarding hallucinations, but how that relates to normal vision may surprise you: The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, Episode 536. The whole discussion is 14 minutes long, and do listen to the whole thing, as there are some interesting points brought up at the end that give some more food for thought.

Also worth listening to a world authority on artificial intelligence and cognitive science, who also happens to have a very interesting background in a variety of different fields: BBC The Life Scientific: Margaret Boden She does express her thoughts on how much she believes we will achieve in A.I. and robotics. I have to admit, listening to the things she says about her background in a variety of different fields,… well, I feel I can certainly relate, especially to the idea of drawing upon so many different fields and seeing connections between so many of them. So I suppose I feel a bit comforted and perhaps even vindicated about the fact that I am interested in and read and learn about such a wide variety of fields and topics.

And finally, let's all get it fucking straight: Torture Does Not Work, and it's wrong. BBC Documentaries: Fighting Terror with Torture In all honesty, I would think anyone who knew anything about psychology would know that torture would be an utterly ineffective method of interrogation.

Interestingly, this site lists some problems with the above documentary, claiming it is "a subtle piece of propaganda for torture apologists", which is interesting to me precisely because I did not at all take it that way. I found the documentary to be obviously against torture, arguing that it doesn't work. (Maybe whoever wrote that is misunderstanding what 'apologist' means?)
One thing stated on that site is that the documentary doesn't really get into British involvement in torture. That's a fair criticism, of course. So, if you wanted to dip into just how dark and dirty the skeletons are in Britian's closet: Radiolab: Mau Mau.

My apologies, my dear readers, for my lack of postings. But you know, paralyzing depression's a bitch.
12th-Oct-2015 01:36 pm - Interview with Edward Snowden
An Interview with Edward Snowden via BBC

We need more whistleblowers willing to stand up against the highest powers in the land in order to stand up for the rights and liberties of the people, the rights and liberties that were supposed to make the United States the greatest place to live.

How did we end up being the place with some of the highest rates of violent crime in the developed world, the most unhealthy people in the developed world, and the greatest inequalities in the developed world?
self inflicted
I am linking the article below not because I agree with the author about the Nobel Peace Prize – I don't disagree either – but rather for the purpose of raising awareness about the awful violent rape that regularly occurs in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Having already known about this, I can tell you that this article does not really do justice to the victims in giving you an idea of just how violent and awful it can be. Given the type of website the article is published on, it makes sense to not go into a lot of the details. But I can tell you that there are lots of incidents with details so awful and so gruesome, it's the kind of mental imagery you spend the rest of your life wishing you could forget.

Denis Mukwege is a Congolese physician who… has personally treated over 20,000 women, girls, men and boys who have suffered the physical and psychological wounds of traumatic rape.
pion-muon decay
I haven't even listened to this all the way through, but it is really fascinating, especially if you like neuroscience. But also just for the fact that things like dementia and Alzheimer's – which are some of the things discussed – are a concern on most people's minds, because of family members suffering from such things. But also because the idea of developing something like that is really quite scary, and we still don't fully understand these diseases and don't really know how to prevent them or stop them.
It's also extremely fascinating to consider the idea that things like dementia or Alzheimer's might, at least in part, be the result of the body trying desperately to save itself, or in this case, the brain trying desperately to save itself. Thinking about that from the perspective of evolution… just deeply fascinating and interesting in trying to understand why and how we are the way we are, and how much of that we can "hack", so to speak.
But anyway…

I'll warn you, some bits of the conversation get a little technical, so if you're like me and want to grasp all of the nitty gritty details, you might need to backtrack at times and relisten to some of those bits.

Talkin' Immunology podcast: Neurodegenerative Diseases, Protein Misfolding, and Prion-like Proteins
I don't like the title of the original article, because it just kind of supports the persistently prejudiced perspective of those who end up in prison. So I'm not reposting it.

Original source: Wall Street Journal by Leslie Brody

NAPANOCH, N.Y.—On one side of the stage at a maximum-security prison here sat three men incarcerated for violent crimes.

On the other were three undergraduates from Harvard College.

After an hour of fast-moving debate Friday, the judges rendered their verdict.

The inmates won.
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self inflicted
Seriously, what the fuck? U.S. air strike on a known MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan (MSF, for those of you who don't know, is Doctors Without Boarders.)
UN says the attack may count as a war crime.

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. is trying to pin the blame on the Afghans, claiming that Afghan forces asked U.S. for the air strike.

But you know, at first, the U.S. claimed it was an accident ("collateral damage"). Hmm…

It would be naïve to think that the U.S. military and the U.S. government in the international sphere don't engage in shit you never hear about, naïve to think they're totally transparent with the American public about what they do in other, vulnerable countries. Supposedly they somehow represent you globally; but they don't ask for your permission to do the things they do internationally, and they often don't ever tell you, because sometimes they'd much rather you not know.

And no, I do not mean that in some conspiracy sort of way. Conspiracies make fun plots for high budget Hollywood movies, but it pretty much ends there. The real world is too complicated a mess to sustain any conspiracy. In so many ways too much of the American public just doesn't get, the reality is far worse than any conspiracy.
pion-muon decay
Many other countries celebrate great scientists by putting them on their currency. So what the hell are we lagging behind for?
The Treasury is redesigning the $10 bill and the goal is to feature a notable woman.

So how about an awesome scientist whose work has actually been crucial in and done so much for the field of genetics, but whom you've probably never even heard of?

Sign the petition to get Barbara McClintock on the bill!

[My apologies, dear readers, for the shortage of entries lately. It has been and still is a rough period right now. That's all I can say.]
11th-Sep-2015 06:43 pm - Genome Editing with CRISPR, Part IV
pion-muon decay
Part I
Part II
Part III

Picking up where I left off:

As stated in Part III, this whole discussion was prompted by the recent publication of some work using CRISPR in human embryos, and the reaction by the scientific community, which has bled over into part of the public sphere. Many have reacted negatively, calling for a moratorium, or an outright permanent ban, on the use of CRISPR in human embryos. Some of the reasons offered are perfectly legitimate concerns, but are rather misplaced, or are real concerns but not good reasons to prohibit such research.

Most of the legitimate concerns are basically practical concerns. The current state of our knowledge and understanding of the human genome and human genetics is simply not nearly robust enough for human genome editing to be safe, both with respect to immediate results and with respect to the consequences for future generations. It would therefore be unethical to use CRISPR for genome editing in humans at this time.
But this is surely not specific to human genome editing: all unsafe research and medical procedures are unethical. So, yes, safety is clearly a legitimate concern, but it's misplaced as a reaction to the recent CRISPR research on human embryos, which was far from being an attempt to use genome editing in humans. (I'll have more to say about this below.)

This brings me to a very crucial point in this discussion.

Because when you clear away the practical concerns, which all pretty much center around safety issues and our incomplete knowledge and understanding of human genetics, the refrain that so often comes up is, "we just should not alter the human genome (germ line)." In other words, some people want to say that, even if we could have complete knowledge and understanding of the human genome and human genetics, we still just shouldn't edit the human genome (germ line). Why? Because there's just something inherently wrong about that; it's just a line we shouldn't cross. Which is really just to say that it feels wrong, but they have no idea why, but they're sure it must be, even though they can't really give a reason. So, they urge, CRISPR should not be used in human embryos at all, and so should not be used on human embryos in research.

Now, I don't agree that we just shouldn't alter the human genome (germ line), but here's the thing: it's a non sequitur.
Genome editing in human embryos that will never [be able to] develop into actual people is not at all the same thing as editing "the human genome", or human germ line.
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5th-Sep-2015 12:10 am - Gadawan Kura
pion-muon decay
I love dogs, but, a hyena would be pretty damn awesome.
(Click on the image.)

self inflicted
How can humanity be so cruel and so terrible to its own? (Let us not forget that turning a blind eye can be an act of cruelty, too. After all, we throw parents in jail for negligence.)

Now that bodies of Syrian refugees, including those of small children, are washing up on beaches in Turkey, will the world take seriously Syria's ever-worsening humanitarian crisis?

Yes, ISIL is a serious problem, but it seems people keep forgetting that the Syrian government itself, Bashar al-Assad's regime, is killing its own citizens, too. And very likely, it's killing more than the so-called "Islamic State".
Is it any wonder so many Syrians are so desperate to flee?

I just don't get how so many people in Europe can see them as a problem.
"Yes, they need help," they say, "but now it's affecting our lives, too. Now this is too much."
Wait, so, there's a humanitarian crisis going on, tons of people are dying, at the hands of both terrorists and their own fucking government, and tons of those who flee in utter desperation from such dire conditions are dying as a result of being victims of heartlessly selfish people smugglers. But, the refugees who actually finally make it alive to your countries, as soon as they become an annoying inconvenience to you, that's too much? Well, what a fucking privilege you have.
In a heartbeat, it wouldn't take a second moment's thought, I'd open up my home, my little one bedroom apartment, to ten refugees, whether from Syria or Sudan or wherever.

(You know, I have to admit, it sounds vaguely familiar to something I heard some people saying about the problems blacks have been facing for too long now in Ferguson. I remembering seeing in some video some woman saying, "Yeah, I understand, they got problems, they need help. But," in reference to the protesters last month blocking the highway and stopping traffic for awhile, "now you're affecting other people's lives, and that's just taking it too far." No, lady, no; apparently you don't understand. Somehow, I'm sadly certain that if it was white people suffering such treatment, y'all'd be sending in the Marines, metaphorically speaking.)
Humans were hunter-gatherers first, and for a very long time. Every hunter-gatherer society we've encountered – the Hadza being one – displayed the same entirely egalitarian characteristics and communal child-rearing (no nuclear family). Cooperation, altruism, sharing, working together and helping each other: that is what made humans a successful species. None of that bullshit about competing in some tooth and nail race against each other; none of the bullshit you've been brainwashed to believe in with the infamous phrase, "survival of the fittest". Humans could not exist without some kind of community, some kind of society. And that means that, the humans who were compassionate, empathetic, generous and inclined to share, help someone, cooperate, and who saw the futility of sustained conflict and aggression, these were the humans who were fittest to survive.

I have to say, it kind of upsets me that I've never learned nor heard about these people before. It would be so much better for all of us if we were taught about peoples like this – and not just some one line in a textbook in sixth grade.

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pion-muon decay
On the one hand, our advancements in robotics are downright amazing. On the other hand, keeping in mind that these are clips of robot successes and not fails – of which there are plenty! – we are clearly nowhere near the kind of robots that conspiracy mythology would have you think.

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