Category Archives: Idea Soup

In Search of the Perfect 100-Year-Old Sandwich

up-to-date-sandwich-book

Cultures the world-over have been wrapping edible delicacies in bread for thousands of years. But for some reason English-speaking nations attribute this concoction to John Montagu, the 18th century 4th Earl of Sandwich. Legend has it that he would demand that his serving staff deliver slices of meat between two pieces of bread so that he could eat one-handed and continue playing his favorite card games and gamble without interruption.

In honor of this remarkable invention, and with apologies to the real inventor(s) and the many precursors to the modern sandwich, the Public Domain Review has published, “The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich“, by Eva Green Fuller in 1909.

Check out the yummy egg sandwiches beginning on page 31. While I’m dubious about some of the fishy sandwiches the author is certainly correct on the first prerequisite for a good sandwich, “perfect bread in suitable condition”.

From Public Domain Review:

Although the sandwich became well established in England, the uptake in the US was a little slow (perhaps in opposition to their former rulers), a sandwich recipe not appearing in an American cookbook until 1815. By 1909 it was a different story, as the wonderfully no-nonsense Up-To-Date Sandwich Book featured here can attest to, a popularity no doubt linked to what made the food form soar amongst the working classes of the British industrial revolution — it was fast, portable, and cheap. As the subtitle betrays, no less than four hundred different sandwiches are detailed in the book.

Image: The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich (1909). Courtesy: Public Domain Review.

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A Common Language

Researchers at Cornell’s Cognitive Neuroscience Lab suggest that all humans may share one common ancestral language. This is regardless of our geographic diversity and seemingly independent linguistic family trees.

Having studied linguistics I can attest that one of its fundamental tenets holds that the sound of a word and its meaning tends to be an arbitrary relationship. Recently, a number of fascinating studies have shown that this linkage may not be as arbitrary as first thought.

For instance, words for small, prickly things — across numerous languages — are likely to be made up of high-pitched, “spiky” sounds, known as “kiki”. On the other hand, words for smoother, round objects are likely to contain “ooo” or “ou” sounds, known as “bouba”.

A great overview of the current thinking comes courtesy of  Scientific American’s recent article “‘R’ Is For Red: Common Words Share Similar Sounds in Many Languages“.

From Scientific American:

In English, the word for the sniffing appendage on our face is nose. Japanese also happens to use the consonant n in this word (hana) and so does Turkish (burun). Since the 1900s, linguists have argued that these associations between speech sounds and meanings are purely arbitrary. Yet a new study calls this into question.

Together with his colleagues, Damián Blasi of the University of Zurich analyzed lists of words from 4,298 different languages. In doing so, they discovered that unrelated languages often use the same sounds to refer to the same meaning. For example, the consonant r is often used in words for red—think of French rouge, Spanish rojo, and German rot, but also Turkish k?rm?z?, Hungarian piros, and Maori kura.

The idea is not new. Previous studies have suggested that sound-meaning associations may not be entirely arbitrary, but these studies were limited by small sample sizes (200 languages or fewer) and highly restricted lists of words (such as animals only). Blasi’s study, published this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, is notable because it included almost two thirds of the world’s languages and used lists of diverse words, including pronouns, body parts,verbs,natural phenomena,and adjectives—such as we, tongue, drink, star and small, respectively.

The scope of the study is unprecedented, says Stanka Fitneva, associate professor of psychology at Queen’s University in Canada, who was not involved in the research. And Gary Lupyan, associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, adds, “Only through this type of large-scale analysis can worldwide patterns be discovered.”

Read the entire article here.

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MondayMap: European Stereotypes

map-europe-google-stereotypeHot on the heels of the map of US state stereotypes I am delighted to present a second one. This time it’s a map of Google searches in the UK for various nations across Europe. It was compiled by taking the most frequent result from Google’s autocomplete function. For instance, type in, “Why is Italy…”, and Google automatically fills in the most popular result with “Why is Italy shaped like a boot”.

Highlighting just a few: Switzerland is viewed as rich; Austria is racist; Ireland is green.

Map: European nation stereotypes by British Google users. Courtesy: Independent Media.

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Please Don’t Send in the Clowns

google-search-clowns

By some accounts the United States is undergoing an epidemic of (scary) clown sightings. For those who have been following the current election cycle — for what seems like years — this should come as no surprise. After all, a rather huge (or is it “yuuge”) one wants to be President.

That aside, this creepy game [for want of a better word] began in August in South Carolina, and has since spread to New York, New Jersey, Texas, Oregon, Florida and a host of other States.

I think author Stephen King has a lot to answer for.

Humor aside for a moment. A study on the nature of creepiness published in April 2016, ranks clowns as the most creepy occupation followed by taxidermist and sex shop worker; funeral director and taxi drivers rounded out the top 5. Many psychologists and anthropologists will find this result to be unsurprising — clowns, court jesters, jokers and village fools have been creeping out (and entertaining) audiences for thousands of years.

And, then of course, there’s an even more serious clown show going on at the moment, headed by a truly dangerous one — especially if you’re female:

google-search-clown-car-2

From the Guardian:

The first person to spot a clown, the patient zero in the current epidemic of threatening clowns sightings spreading across the US, was a little boy at a low-income apartment complex in Greenville, South Carolina.

He ran to his mother, Donna Arnold, and told her what he had seen: two clowns in the woods, both brightly dressed and made up. One with a red fright wig and the other with a black star painted on his face. They whispered something to the boy.

“They were trying to lure him to the house,” his mother told me, pointing toward the woods.

A path into the woods led down into a shaded hollow, at the bottom of which was a small pond. Beside it sat a house that seemed abandoned. Someone had boarded up the windows, and the balcony sagged. New bags of potting soil sat near the basement door, though. And a modern security system looked recently installed.

After sunset a car approached the house; a gleaming white, new-model Mercedes that looked as out of place as any clown car. The driver stepped out and said she had recently bought the old house as an investment because it sits on five acres in an otherwise densely populated area. “You think it looks bad now, you should have seen it before I came in,” she said.

While we talked she wore an in-ear headset, so it wasn’t always clear whether she was speaking to me or someone on her phone.

No, she didn’t want to give her name, she said.

Yes, she had heard about the clown sightings.

Read the entire story here.

Images courtesy of Google Search.

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Oilfield Prayer Day

google-search-oilfield

Today, October 13, 2016, is officially Oilfield Prayer Day in Oklahoma. Governor Mary Fallin proclaimed it to raise awareness of the state’s economic troubles, particularly the energy sector and the depressed oil industry.

Ex-governor of Texas, Rick Perry, famously asked residents to pray for rain back in April 2011, during a prolonged drought and wildfire season.

But praying for the oil industry? Well! [pun intended]. Perhaps, praying for corporations and industry will catch on. If so, my next thoughts and prayers will go to the gun manufacturers, big pharma, car airbag manufacturers, private prison companies, Koch Industries, and hedge fund managers.

Read more here.

Image courtesy of Google Search.

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One Month to Go!

trump-rnc-convention-speech-crop

On November 8, 2016 citizens of the United States will decide who takes up residence in the Oval Office on the following January. If you remain undecided — which I doubt — please select from any one of the following links or stories or visit this summary page.

Gathered for the first time in one place, I present daily Trumpian #NeverTrump #DumpTrump vulgarities, bigotry, hypocrisy and other dangerously ignorant and poisonous nonsense from the volatile, puerile, vindictive, noxious, misogynistic, racist, insensitive, naive, irrational, petulant, authoritarian, disgraceful, irresponsible, narcissistic, vacuous, cowardly, pathologically deranged, completely detached-from-reality, and chronically repulsive and incoherent mind mouth of the “Republican” nominee for President (think about that very carefully for several minutes).

There is such a goldmine cesspool of material stretching back years, nay decades, that it’s difficult to recommend just a couple of highlights. However, if you’re a connoisseur of such ignorant vulgarities then I would suggest days 31 and 42 for their “jaw-droppingness”.

As we count down to Election Day — a potentially apocalyptic event — I plan to add a daily key “thought” (I use this term loosely) from the increasingly deranged and highly volatile mind of the Republican nominee.

For the sake of historical completeness I’ve also included some of Mr. Trump’s most recent choice vulgarities, bulls**t and other nonsense pre-100 days. I’m not going back more than a couple of years because, quite simply, there’s far too much crass stupidity to cover on one simple web page.

This truly is a gift that keeps on giving — but only up until November 8, 2016, of course.

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The Elitist Media

The sad, low-energy, loser, elitist media just can’t get it right.

Local and national newspapers, magazines, TV and online media — on the left and right — continue to endorse Hillary Clinton and bash Donald Trump. Some have never endorsed a candidate before, while others have never endorsed a Democrat for President. Perhaps not surprisingly the non-elitist National Enquirer has endorsed Trump. Here are just a few of those elitist endorsements:

The Atlantic: Against Donald Trump

[O]ur interest here is not to advance the prospects of the Democratic Party, nor to damage those of the Republican Party,” the editorial concludes. “We believe in American democracy, in which individuals from various parties of different ideological stripes can advance their ideas and compete for the affection of voters. But Trump is not a man of ideas. He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar. He is spectacularly unfit for office, and voters—the statesmen and thinkers of the ballot box—should act in defense of American democracy and elect his opponent.

USA Today: Trump is ‘unfit for the presidency’

From the day he declared his candidacy 15 months ago through this week’s first presidential debate, Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he lacks the temperament, knowledge, steadiness and honesty that America needs from its presidents.

Arizona Republic: Hillary Clinton is the only choice to move America ahead

Since The Arizona Republic began publication in 1890, we have never endorsed a Democrat over a Republican for president. Never. This reflects a deep philosophical appreciation for conservative ideals and Republican principles. This year is different. The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and he is not qualified.

Dallas Morning News: We recommend Hillary Clinton for president 

Trump’s values are hostile to conservatism. He plays on fear — exploiting base instincts of xenophobia, racism and misogyny — to bring out the worst in all of us, rather than the best. His serial shifts on fundamental issues reveal an astounding absence of preparedness. And his improvisational insults and midnight tweets exhibit a dangerous lack of judgment and impulse control.

Houston Chronicle: These are unsettling times that require a steady hand: That’s Hillary Clinton

Any one of Trump’s less-than-sterling qualities – his erratic temperament, his dodgy business practices, his racism, his Putin-like strongman inclinations and faux-populist demagoguery, his contempt for the rule of law, his ignorance – is enough to be disqualifying. His convention-speech comment, “I alone can fix it,” should make every American shudder. He is, we believe, a danger to the Republic.

Cincinnati Inquirer: Enquirer: It has to be Hillary Clinton

Trump is a clear and present danger to our country. He has no history of governance that should engender any confidence from voters. Trump has no foreign policy experience, and the fact that he doesn’t recognize it – instead insisting that, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do” – is even more troubling.

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MondayMap: State Stereotypes

map-uk-google-stereotype

An interesting map courtesy of Google searches in the UK shows some fascinating stereotypes for each of the US fifty states. It was compiled by taking the most frequent result from Google’s autocomplete function. For instance, type in, “Why is Colorado so…”, and Google automatically fills in the most popular result with “Why is Colorado so fit”.

It’s not entirely scientific but interesting nonetheless. Highlighting just a few: Wisconsin is viewed as drunk; Louisiana as racist; Colorado as fit; and, Nevada as dangerous.

Map: US state stereotypes by British Google users. Courtesy: Independent Media.

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The Banana Republic Nextdoor

Seal_of_North_Carolina.svg

The United States has no problem raking other nations and their leaders over the coals for violating fundamental human rights. We don’t like it when certain countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America trample on democracy, restrict free speech and restrict the ability of citizens to vote.

Yet, North Carolina clearly sees itself as a leading anti-democratic banana republic. Restricting voting rights of huge parts of the population under the guise of non-existent or insignificant voter fraud is nothing more than institutionalized racism.

The state’s leaders should be ashamed — the US Supreme Court seems to agree.

So, the next time you think of visiting a “third-world” nation to experience their “antiquated” governmental practices and their “quaint” discriminatory worldview put North Carolina on your bucket list.

From Washington Post:

The emails to the North Carolina election board seemed routine at the time.

“Is there any way to get a breakdown of the 2008 voter turnout, by race (white and black) and type of vote (early and Election Day)?” a staffer for the state’s Republican-controlled legislature asked in January 2012.

“Is there no category for ‘Hispanic’ voter?” a GOP lawmaker asked in March 2013 after requesting a range of data, including how many voters cast ballots outside their precinct.

And in April 2013, a top aide to the Republican House speaker asked for “a breakdown, by race, of those registered voters in your database that do not have a driver’s license number.”

Months later, the North Carolina legislature passed a law that cut a week of early voting, eliminated out-of-precinct voting and required voters to show specific types of photo ID — restrictions that election board data demonstrated would disproportionately affect African Americans and other minorities.

Critics dubbed it the “monster” law — a sprawling measure that stitched together various voting restrictions being tested in other states. As civil rights groups have sued to block the North Carolina law and others like it around the country, several thousand pages of documents have been produced under court order, revealing the details of how Republicans crafted these measures.

A review of these documents shows that North Carolina GOP leaders launched a meticulous and coordinated effort to deter black voters, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats. The law, created and passed entirely by white legislators, evoked the state’s ugly history of blocking African Americans from voting — practices that had taken a civil rights movement and extensive federal intervention to stop.

Last month, a three-judge federal appeals panel struck down the North Carolina law, calling it “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.” Drawing from the emails and other evidence, the 83-page ruling charged that Republican lawmakers had targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Gov. Pat McCrory (R) filed an emergency petition to restore the law, but a deadlocked Supreme Court on Wednesday refused his stay request, meaning the law will not be in effect for the Nov. 8 election. Because the lower court did not offer specific guidelines for reinstating early voting, however, local election boards run by Republicans are still trying to curb access to the polls.

In lengthy interviews, GOP leaders insisted their law is not racially motivated and their goal was to combat voter fraud. They called their opponents demagogues, who are using the specter of racism to inflame the issue.

Read the entire story here.

Image: State seal of North Carolina. Public Domain.

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Murderers or Terrorists and the Real Tragedy

The United States is a wonderful, yet thoroughly paradoxical place. Take the general reactions to gun violence, murder and terrorism, during a two week period in mid-September 2016, for example.

Exhibit A: Ahmad Khan Rahami, a would-be murderer, planted several home-made pipe and pressure cooker bombs in New Jersey and New York on September 17. Result: no deaths, several minor injuries, local property damage. Our news media spun days worth of front page coverage, outrage, analysis, hearsay, opinion, soul-searching. Reason: the perpetrator had a beard, Muslim name and found to have espoused sympathies with radicals.

Exhibit B: Arcan Cetin shot four women and one man at a Macy’s store in Burlington, Washington on September 23. Result: 5 deaths. The rampage in a suburban mall barely made the national headlines, and didn’t last beyond the 24-hour news cycle. Reason: the perpetrator was clean-shaven, had personal problems and found to have no “terrorist” links or sympathies.

Exhibit C: Nathan DeSai, a 46-year-old Texas attorney, went on a shooting spree in Houston on September 26. Result: 9 wounded. This made a minor flutter in the news media and has since disappeared from national consciousness even though he was wearing an antique German uniform with Swastikas.

In 2013, over 16,000 people were murdered in the US, around 11,000 at the hands of someone armed with a gun. In 2015, 475 people were killed in 372 mass shootings. Many of these go completely unreported, aside from a paragraph or two at the local level.

And yet.

And yet, our media and a large number of US citizens fret and decry events at the hands of the “terrorist”, while barely blinking at the daily carnage caused by our domestic, homicidal neighbors. Who are the real terrorists and why have we come to accept so many daily murders — averaging over 40 — as so utterly banal and trivial? Is the politically motivated “international” assassin any more dangerous than the disturbed suburban version? They’re both driven by a distorted worldview and their place in it. Perhaps, they’re not that different after all.

But, more importantly, rather than focusing on a 55 ft wall to deter illusory armies of terrorists it might be more rational to tackle the causes that lead to tens of thousands of our own citizens killing their spouses, families, neighbors, school children, work colleagues, church-goers, drivers, runners and shoppers. We are desensitized to our home-grown “domestic terrorism”. That’s the real tragedy.

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Ideological Entertainment

Vermont_state_fair_barker_bwEver wondered what really fuels the right-wingers in the media. Is it genuine, hard-felt belief — however unpalatable those beliefs may be to the mainstream — or is it about cold, hard cash and puerile attention seeking?

The cynic in mean tends to agree with Michael Gerson’s op/ed, that much of the conservative media vitriol makes for good clickbait. So, where does this leave the true citizen-believers? Well, to the media carnival barkers they are just gormless marks to be had at the freakshow. It’s ideaological entertainment folks!

You decide.

From the Washington Post:

Of the 2016 election’s lightning storm of shocks, few will have more lasting political consequence than the discrediting of the main media organs of movement conservatism.

Fox News — the “fair and balanced” alternative to the liberal media, the voice of traditional values, the never-ceasing hum in the background of American conservatism — has been revealed as the personal fiefdom of a Donald Trump shill and as an institution apparently operating (according to one lawsuit) “like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.” While Fox News is not going away, it will need to be relaunched and rebranded as the network of Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly (both fine journalists), rather than of angry white television personalities who employ perpetual outrage as a business model.

Speaking of which, a similar unveiling has occurred with the right’s defining radio personality, Rush Limbaugh. It is difficult to overestimate Limbaugh’s influence on two generations of intensely loyal listeners. Steve Forbes has called him “part of the trinity that made modern conservatism,” in the company of Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley.

In this campaign cycle, Limbaugh fully embraced right-wing populism, including defending Trump’s hard line on immigration and mass deportation — a position Limbaugh once described as “standing up for the American way of life.” During the recent six-day period in which Trump moderated his immigration stand and essentially embraced Jeb Bush’s views, Limbaugh fielded a call from “Rick in Los Angeles,” who was angry at Trump for adopting a position he had savaged other Republicans for holding. “This is going to enrage you,” Limbaugh replied. “I can choose a path here to try to mollify you. I never took him seriously on this.”

It is an admission of astounding cynicism.

Read the full op/ed here.

Image: Barker at the Vermont State Fair, 1941. Courtesy: Jack Delano, photographer. United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division. Public Domain.

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Intolerance and Divine Revelation

Intolerance_film

Another day, another heinous, murderous act in the name of religion — the latest this time a French priest killed in his own church by a pair shouting “Allahu akbar!” (To be fair countless other similar acts continue on a daily basis in non-Western nations, but go unreported or under-reported in the mainstream media).

Understandably, local and national religious leaders decry these heinous acts as a evil perversion of Islamic faith. Now, I’d be the first to admit that attributing such horrendous crimes solely to the faiths of the perpetrators is a rather simplistic rationalization. Other factors, such as political disenfranchisement, (perceived) oppression, historical persecution and economic pressures, surely play a triggering and/or catalytic role.

Yet, as Gary Gutting professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame reminds us in another of his insightful essays, religious intolerance is a fundamental component. The three main Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — are revelatory faiths. Their teachings are each held to be incontrovertible truth revealed to us by an omniscient God (or a divine messenger). Strict adherence to these beliefs has throughout history led many believers — of all faiths — to enact their intolerance in sometimes very violent ways. Over time, numerous socio-economic pressures have generally softened this intolerance — but not equally across the three faiths.

From NYT:

Both Islam and Christianity claim to be revealed religions, holding that their teachings are truths that God himself has conveyed to us and wants everyone to accept. They were, from the start, missionary religions. A religion charged with bringing God’s truth to the world faces the question of how to deal with people who refuse to accept it. To what extent should it tolerate religious error? At certain points in their histories, both Christianity and Islam have been intolerant of other religions, often of each other, even to the point of violence.

This was not inevitable, but neither was it an accident. The potential for intolerance lies in the logic of religions like Christianity and Islam that say their teaching derive from a divine revelation. For them, the truth that God has revealed is the most important truth there is; therefore, denying or doubting this truth is extremely dangerous, both for nonbelievers, who lack this essential truth, and for believers, who may well be misled by the denials and doubts of nonbelievers. Given these assumptions, it’s easy to conclude that even extreme steps are warranted to eliminate nonbelief.

You may object that moral considerations should limit our opposition to nonbelief. Don’t people have a human right to follow their conscience and worship as they think they should? Here we reach a crux for those who adhere to a revealed religion. They can either accept ordinary human standards of morality as a limit on how they interpret divine teachings, or they can insist on total fidelity to what they see as God’s revelation, even when it contradicts ordinary human standards. Those who follow the second view insist that divine truth utterly exceeds human understanding, which is in no position to judge it. God reveals things to us precisely because they are truths we would never arrive at by our natural lights. When the omniscient God has spoken, we can only obey.

For those holding this view, no secular considerations, not even appeals to conventional morality or to practical common sense, can overturn a religious conviction that false beliefs are intolerable. Christianity itself has a long history of such intolerance, including persecution of Jews, crusades against Muslims, and the Thirty Years’ War, in which religious and nationalist rivalries combined to devastate Central Europe. This devastation initiated a move toward tolerance among nations that came to see the folly of trying to impose their religions on foreigners. But intolerance of internal dissidents — Catholics, Jews, rival Protestant sects — continued even into the 19th century. (It’s worth noting that in this period the Muslim Ottoman Empire was in many ways more tolerant than most Christian countries.) But Christians eventually embraced tolerance through a long and complex historical process.

Critiques of Christian revelation by Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Rousseau and Hume raised serious questions that made non-Christian religions — and eventually even rejections of religion — intellectually respectable. Social and economic changes — including capitalist economies, technological innovations, and democratic political movements — undermined the social structures that had sustained traditional religion.

The eventual result was a widespread attitude of religious toleration in Europe and the United States. This attitude represented ethical progress, but it implied that religious truth was not so important that its denial was intolerable. Religious beliefs and practices came to be regarded as only expressions of personal convictions, not to be endorsed or enforced by state authority. This in effect subordinated the value of religious faith to the value of peace in a secular society. Today, almost all Christians are reconciled to this revision, and many would even claim that it better reflects the true meaning of their religion.

The same is not true of Muslims. A minority of Muslim nations have a high level of religious toleration; for example Albania, Kosovo, Senegal and Sierra Leone. But a majority — including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Malaysia — maintain strong restrictions on non-Muslim (and in some cases certain “heretical” Muslim) beliefs and practices. Although many Muslims think God’s will requires tolerance of false religious views, many do not.

Read the entire story here.

Image: D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) movie poster. Courtesy: Sailko / Dekkappai at Wikipedia. Public Domain.

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176 Reasons to Vote Against the Bully

I implore you to watch the entire video and (re-)learn why the Republican nominee for President should never be elected. The piece is 17 minutes long — it’s increasingly impossible to distill Trump’s truly deplorable and vulgar bile into anything shorter.

Video: 176 Reasons Donald Trump Shouldn’t Be President
In the debut episode of his new series, “The Closer with Keith Olbermann,” GQ’s Keith Olbermann tallies the most outrageous of Donald Trump’s offenses in what is now his 15-month assault on American democracy. Courtesy: GQ.

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Beware the Nooscope

diagram-capitalisation-of-the-future

Now we know why Donald Trump is cozying up with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s not about the budding bromance between two so-called strong men. It’s not that Trump is financially beholden to various, shady Russian money men.

It’s all about the Nooscope.

The Nooscope is described in complex academic papers authored by Puti’s new chief of staff Anton Vaino. Apparently, the Nooscope can “tap into global consciousness and detect and register changes in the biosphere and in human activity”.

Is the Nooscope the ultimate weapon, allowing a government to control both its citizens and its enemies? If so, it’s no wonder Trump continues to look towards the Kremlin.

Or is the Nooscope nothing more than pseudo-scientific hot air?

Please let me know if you figure it out.

From BBC:

He does not appear to have given any press interviews in his past career, and his official biography reveals little, beyond a steady rise over many years of service to the Kremlin.

Before his Kremlin promotion the Estonian-born high flyer served as a diplomat, including a stint at the Tokyo embassy.

But an investigation by BBC Russian into Mr Vaino’s academic work reveals intriguing details about him and may offer clues about his worldview.

Like many officials of his generation, reports say he has a master’s degree in economics and has contributed to various scientific publications.

In 2012 an article appeared in a specialist journal called Economics and Law written by an “AK Vaino” – widely believed to be one and the same person as Mr Putin’s new chief of staff.

It was titled “The capitalisation of the future”.

Levers of power

Written in a dense academic prose – which many Russian commentators this week said they found almost impossible to understand – and accompanied by even more complex charts and diagrams, the article outlines new ways of organising and understanding society.

Mr Vaino argues that the economy and society in general have become too complex to manage by traditional means. Governments need to seek new ways of regulating and controlling them.

The article describes a new device called a “nooscope” which, it says, can tap into global consciousness and “detect and register changes in the biosphere and in human activity”.

The “nooscope” bewildered many in Russia this week. Does the device really exist, they asked. What does it actually do? Is Mr Vaino really serious?

BBC Russian tracked down Viktor Sarayev, an award-winning economist and businessman who has co-authored a number of articles with Mr Vaino.

He described the nooscope as “a device that scans transactions between people, things and money”, and claimed it was an invention of parallel significance to the telescope and the microscope.

Read the entire story here.

Image: The capitalisation of the future diagram. Courtesy: BBC.

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Hedging With Death

Wiertz-burial

I’ve never met a hedge fund guy. I don’t think I ever will. They’re invariably male and white. Hedge fund guys move in very different circles than mere mortgage-bound morals like me, usually orbited by billions of dollars and extravagant toys like 200 ft yachts, Tuscan palazzos and a Lamborghini on every continent. At least that’s the popular stereotype.

I’m not sure I like the idea of hedge funds and hedge fund guys with their complex and obfuscated financial transactions, nano-second trading, risk shifting strategies, corporate raids and restructurings. I’m not against gazillionaires per se — but I much prefer the billionaires who invent and make things over those who simply bet and gamble and destroy.

So, it comes as no surprise to learn that one predatory hedge fund guy has found a way to make money from the death of strangers. His name is Donald F. “Jay” Lathen Jr. and his hedge fund is known as Eden Arc Capital Management. Lathen found a neat way for his hedge fund to profit from bonds and CDs (certificates of deposit) with survivor options. For each of his “death transactions” there would be two named survivors: himself or an associate and a terminally-ill patient at a nursing home or hospice. In exchange for naming Lathen as a financial beneficiary the patient would collect $10,000 from Lathen. Lathen would then rake in far greater sums from the redeemed bonds when the patient died.

Lathen’s trick was to enter into such deals only with patients that he calculated to be closest to death. Nothing illegal here, but certainly ethically head-scratching. Don’t you just love capitalism!

From Bloomberg:

A vital function of the financial system is to shift risk, but that is mostly a euphemism. Finance can’t make risks go away, or even really move them all that much. When the financial system shifts the risk of X happening from Y to Z, all that means is that Z gives Y money if X happens. If X was going to happen to Y, it’s still going to happen to Y. But now Y gets money.

Death is a central fact of human existence, the fundamental datum that gives meaning to life, but it is also a risk — you never know when it will happen! — and so the financial industry has figured out ways to shift it. Not in any supernatural sense, I mean, but in the regular financial-industry sense: by giving people money when death happens to them. One cannot know for certain how much of a consolation that is.

Another vital function of the financial system is to brutally punish the mispricing of risk through arbitrage. Actually I don’t really know how vital that one is, but people are pretty into it. If someone under- or overestimates a risk, someone else will find a way to make them pay for it. That’s how markets, even the market for death, stay efficient.

The normal way to shift the risk of death is life insurance — you die, the insurance company gives you money — but there are other, more esoteric versions, and they are more susceptible to arbitrage. One version involves “medium and long-term bonds and certificates of deposit (‘CDs’) that contain ‘survivor options’ or ‘death puts.'” Schematically, the idea is that a financial institution issues a bond that pays back $100 when it matures in 2040 or whatever. But if the buyer of the bond dies, he gets his $100 back immediately, instead of having to wait until 2040. He’s still dead, though.

But the bond can be owned jointly by two people, and when one of them dies, the other one gets the $100 back. If you and your friend buy a bond like that for $80, and then your friend dies, you make a quick $20.

But what are the odds of that? “Pretty low” was presumably the thinking of the companies issuing these bonds. But they didn’t reckon with Donald F. “Jay” Lathen Jr. and his hedge fund Eden Arc Capital Management:

Using contacts at nursing homes and hospices to identify patients that had a prognosis of less than six months left to live, and conducting due diligence into the patients’ medical condition, Lathen found Participants he could use to execute the Fund’s strategy. In return for agreeing to become a joint owner on an account with Lathen and/or another individual, the Participants were promised a fixed fee—typically, $10,000.

That is, needless to say, from the Securities and Exchange Commission administrative action against Lathen and Eden Arc. Lathen and a terminally ill patient would buy survivor-option bonds in a joint account, using Eden Arc’s money; the patient would die, Lathen would redeem the bonds, and Eden Arc would get the money. You are … somehow … not supposed to do this?

Read the entire story here.

Image: Antoine Wiertz’s painting of a man buried alive, 1854. Courtesy: Wiertz Museum, Netherlands / Wikipedia. Public Domain.

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The Ambition of Limited Access to Email

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Ubiquitous and constant connectivity has thoroughly reshaped our world over the last couple of decades. We are always reachable, personally and professionally — mobile phones, email and texting have seen to that. Yet, the automated out-of-office message still persists. You know, the email text goes something like this:

I’m currently out of the office and have limited access to email.

Yet, we all know that we can have unlimited access, all the time, and from almost anywhere on the planet. So, what do our automated messages of absence really mean? There are some suggestions that our absence from the connected world ranks as an indicator of status — the less reachable you are, the higher your status. Also, it’s quite possible that some of us use the rather lame excuse of communications service interruption as a smoke-screen for our inability to say no to the 24/7 demands of our work.

From the Guardian:

My favorite literary form of the summer of 2016 is the automatic email out-of-office message. When future scholars of literature reflect on the way that we wrote in this tumultuous, steaming-hot summer, what will they focus on? Perhaps it will be the way these utilitarian missives shifted towards a particular kind of magical thinking.
“I’m away,” these out-of-office messages say, dropping into my inbox one after another, “and I have limited access to email.”

Limited access wasn’t always our collective ambition. Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, when Wi-Fi was but a dream for the masses, I recall a television commercial that often aired during my father’s favorite basketball games. A tropical beach, a sleeves-rolled-up business executive kicking back with a clunky, black-box laptop. This was the exciting future of work: going somewhere beautiful but still being able to show everyone how important you were by bringing your 30lb ThinkPad, kicking back with a couple of spreadsheets and a piña colada.

Now, a generation later, with unprecedented portability, connection, we feel the urge to note our limitations, or the ones that we’d like to envision that we have. We are world-weary: with staring at screens, yes. But also with anticipation of how important we’ll feel when we look at our inbox after two, three hours away, note the stack of communiques at which we will sigh, with which we’ll reluctantly cope.

This is progress: the demonstration of status not through our ability to work wherever we go, but our inability to work. Our distance. Our ability to divide between the mundanity of day-to-day life and the sublimity of vacation. Our genuine and admirable devotion to personal time and space. Or at least our desire to have that devotion: our understanding that it is something to aim for. A wish.

“Limited access to email,” we write, wilfully overlooking the existence of smartphones, playacting as if every hotel in the world doesn’t place the Wi-Fi password in our sweaty palms along with our room key cards. We are aloof, too good to feel a thrill at the buzzing notification that our high school friend has posted a 20-year-old photo of the time that we all went to a water park.

Read the entire story here.

Image: No signal from here. Courtesy: the author.

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Occam’s Razor For a Trumpian World

William_of_OckhamOccam’s razor (or Ockham’s razor) is a principle from philosophy popularized by 14th century philosopher and logician William of Ockham.

Put simply, it states that if there are two or more explanations for a possible occurrence, the simplest explanation is usually the best. That is, the more assumptions required for a possible hypothesis, the less likely is the explanation for that hypothesis.

While Occam’s razor has been found to apply reasonably well in the philosophy of science and more generally, it is not infallible. So, in this 21st century, it’s time to give Occam’s razor a much needed, fresh coat of paint. Further, it also requires an update to make it 100 percent accurate and logically water-tight.

So, let me present Trump’s razor. It goes like this:

Ascertain the stupidest possible scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts and that answer is likely correct.

Unfortunately I can’t lay claim to this brilliant new tool of logic. Thanks go to the great folks over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall and John Scalzi.

Read their insightful proposal here.

Image: William of Ockham, from stained glass window at a church in Surrey. Courtesy: Wikipedia. Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Bringing Work to the Homeless

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Many of us have had interactions — usually fleeting and impersonal — with the homeless. Those of us fortunate enough to have made our own luck (it doesn’t come from the sky) usually find the less fortunate on street corners asking for a donation. Sometimes, some of us may give them a dollar or two to assuage guilt or to just “make them go away”. More often than not we hear voices — sometimes our own — asking, why don’t they just get a job?

The Mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Richard Berry, had a novel answer to this question, and it seems to be working. In the process, his program is moving the homeless off the street and, more importantly, delivering kindness and compassion and instilling hope and dignity in some of our most vulnerable souls.

From the Washington Post:

Republican Mayor Richard Berry was driving around Albuquerque last year when he saw a man on a street corner holding a sign that read: “Want a Job. Anything Helps.”

Throughout his administration, as part of a push to connect the homeless population to services, Berry had taken to driving through the city to talk to panhandlers about their lives. His city’s poorest residents told him they didn’t want to be on the streets begging for money, but they didn’t know where else to go.

Seeing that sign gave Berry an idea. Instead of asking them, many of whom feel dispirited, to go out looking for work, the city could bring the work to them.

Next month will be the first anniversary of Albuquerque’s There’s a Better Way program, which hires panhandlers for day jobs beautifying the city. In partnership with a local nonprofit that serves the homeless population, a van is dispatched around the city to pick up panhandlers who are interested in working. The job pays $9 an hour, which is above minimum wage, and provides a lunch. At the end of the shift, the participants are offered overnight shelter as needed.

In less than a year since its start, the program has given out 932 jobs clearing 69,601 pounds of litter and weeds from 196 city blocks. And more than 100 people have been connected to permanent employment.

“You can just see the spiral they’ve been on to end up on the corner. Sometimes it takes a little catalyst in their lives to stop the downward spiral, to let them catch their breath, and it’s remarkable,” Berry said in an interview. ”They’ve had the dignity of work for a day; someone believed in them today.”

There is a persisting stigma that people begging for money are either drug addicts or too lazy to work and are looking for an easy handout.

But that’s not necessarily the reality. Panhandling is not especially lucrative, but for some people it can seem as if it’s the only option. When they’ve been approached in Albuquerque with the offer of work, most have been eager for the opportunity to earn money, Berry said. They just needed a lift. One man told him no one had said a kind word to him in 25 years.

Read the entire article here.

Image courtesy of Google Search.

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Texas Versus Women’s Health

Texas-map

During the period between 2010 and 2014 the rate of women who died from pregnancy-related complications doubled. Not in an impoverished third world nation, but Texas. This increase in maternal mortality is second to none across the United States and all other developed nations.

Perhaps not coincidentally this same period is also marked by Texas’ significant budget cuts that all but destroyed reproductive healthcare clinics and Planned Parenthood services in the state.

This is a great (and sad) example that clearly demonstrates how political ideology can have serious and fatal consequences for 51 percent of the population. I have to wonder if the other half of the population will ever come to its senses. Though, with Republicans firmly in control at the local and state level I’m sure even these concrete facts will be fair game for some hyperbolic fictional distortion.

From the Guardian:

The rate of Texas women who died from complications related to their pregnancy doubled from 2010 to 2014, a new study has found, for an estimated maternal mortality rate that is unmatched in any other state and the rest of the developed world.

The finding comes from a report, appearing in the September issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, that the maternal mortality rate in the United States increased between 2000 and 2014, even while the rest of the world succeeded in reducing its rate. Excluding California, where maternal mortality declined, and Texas, where it surged, the estimated number of maternal deaths per 100,000 births rose to 23.8 in 2014 from 18.8 in 2000 – or about 27%.

But the report singled out Texas for special concern, saying the doubling of mortality rates in a two-year period was hard to explain “in the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval”.

From 2000 to the end of 2010, Texas’s estimated maternal mortality rate hovered between 17.7 and 18.6 per 100,000 births. But after 2010, that rate had leaped to 33 deaths per 100,000, and in 2014 it was 35.8. Between 2010-2014, more than 600 women died for reasons related to their pregnancies.

No other state saw a comparable increase.

In the wake of the report, reproductive health advocates are blaming the increase on Republican-led budget cuts that decimated the ranks of Texas’s reproductive healthcare clinics. In 2011, just as the spike began, the Texas state legislature cut $73.6m from the state’s family planning budget of $111.5m. The two-thirds cut forced more than 80 family planning clinics to shut down across the state. The remaining clinics managed to provide services – such as low-cost or free birth control, cancer screenings and well-woman exams – to only half as many women as before.

Read the entire article here.

Image courtesy of Google Maps.

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Psychopath Versus Sociopath

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I’ve been writing for a while now about a certain person who wishes to become the next President of the United States. His name is Donald Trump. He carries with him an entire encyclopedia — no, bookshelves of encyclopedias — of negative character traits. But chief among these he lacks empathy, tends to feel no guilt or remorse, and disregards the needs and rights of others. These are traits common to both psychopaths and sociopaths.

Over the last few years I’ve been describing Mr. Trump as a psychopath. Others, particularly recently (here, here, here), characterize him as a sociopath. Who’s right?

I’m turning to some psychological resources, excerpted and paraphrased below — American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, WebMD — to help me clarify the differences.

On first analysis it looks like Mr. Trump straddles both! Though I must say, that regardless, I don’t want either a sociopath or a psychopath, or a psycho-sociopath or a socio-psychopath in the White House with fingers anywhere close to the nuclear codes.

Sociopath:

Sociopaths tend to be volatile. That is, they tend to be nervous and easily agitated or angered. They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of rage. In addition, they may be uneducated and live on the fringes of traditional society, unable to hold down a steady job or stay in one place for very long. They are frequently transients and drifters.

It is difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others. They are capable of bonding emotionally and demonstrating empathy with certain people in certain situations but not others. Many sociopaths have no regard for society in general or its rules. Sociopathy, on the other hand, is more likely the product of environmental influences (“nurture”), such as childhood trauma and physical/emotional abuse.

Psychopath:

Psychopaths are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust. They learn to mimic emotions, despite their inability to actually feel them, and will appear normal to unsuspecting people. Psychopaths are often well educated and hold steady jobs. Some are so good at manipulation and mimicry that they have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting their true nature.

It is believed that psychopathy is the largely the result of “nature” (genetics) and is related to a physiological defect that results in the underdevelopment of the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and emotions.

Infographic courtesy of Psychologia.

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Comfort, Texas, the Timeship and Technological Immortality

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There’s a small town deep in the heart of Texas’ Hill Country called Comfort. It was founded in the mid-19th century by German immigrants. Its downtown area is held to be one of the most well-preserved historic business districts in Texas. Now, just over 160 years on there’s another preservation effort underway in Comfort.

This time, however, the work goes well beyond preserving buildings; Comfort may soon be the global hub for life-extension research and human cryopreservation. The ambitious, and not without controversy, project is known as the Timeship, and is the brainchild of architect Stephen Valentine and the Stasis Foundation.

Since one the the key aims of the Timeship is to preserve biological material — DNA, tissue and organ samples, and even cryopreserved humans — the building design presents some rather unique and stringent challenges. The building must withstand a nuclear blast or other attack; its electrical and mechanical systems must remain functional and stable for hundreds of years; it must be self-sustaining and highly secure.

Read more about the building and much more about the Timeship here.

Image: Timeship screenshot. Courtesy of Timeship.

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What’s Up With Middle-Aged White Males?

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Not too long ago I came across a number of articles describing the high and growing incidence of suicide among middle-aged white males. Indeed, the suicide rate has skyrocketed 40 percent since the early 2000s.

Understandably, and no less sad, the increase in suicides seems to be driven by acute financial distress, chronic pain and/or illness, alcoholism and drug addiction.

Now, it seems that there is a corresponding increase in the number of white males faking their disappearance or fantasizing about it. A classic example is John Darwin from the UK, also known as “canoe man“, who faked his own death in 2002. But a key difference between this group and those who take their own lives is that the group of white males looking to disappear tends to be financially and (reasonably) emotionally stable.

So what on earth is going on?

A soon too be published book — Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud, by Elizabeth Greenwood, examines what it’s like to fake your own death and burgeoning “disappearance” industry.

Here’s an excerpt:

Perhaps Todd’s plan for faking his death will remain in the realm of pure fantasy. But were he to put his plan into motion, Todd fits the prime demographic for a death fraudster. As a middle-aged, middle-class, heterosexual white man with a family, Todd represents the person most likely to fake his death. I’d noticed this disproportion in the demographics, and I wondered if there was anything to it. Privacy consultant Frank Ahearn and author of How to Disappear told me that the majority of his clients who sought to leave their lives behind were men, and J. J. Luna, author of How to Be Invisible: Protect Your Home, Your Children, Your Assets, and Your Life, told me that “far more men than women!” seek his “invisibility” services. In the 1996 guidebook How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, disappearance enthusiast Doug Richmond writes, “To a man of a certain age, there’s a bit of magic in the very thought of cutting all ties, of getting away from it all, of changing names and jobs and women and living happily ever after in a more salubrious clime!”

But why do these seemingly privileged men, who enjoy every perk that DNA has to offer, feel so hemmed in that they must go off the radar entirely? Perhaps it’s because although men still out-earn women, they then entangle themselves in financial trouble trying to enhance their fortunes. Maybe they shrug off because they feel less responsibility to see their children grow and flourish. Women shoulder the burdens of family and community—they take care of dying parents, snotty kids, shut-in neighbors—anyone before themselves. Though that might be relying too heavily on conventional wisdom about gender roles, the numbers speak for themselves: faking death seems to be a heavily male phenomenon. After combing through the stories and examining the traits that men like Todd share, I noticed that they all seemed to feel emasculated, made impotent, by their mundane lives. So, not earning enough money, they invest in a harebrained scheme. Underwhelmed with their monogamous sex lives, they take up with other women. Faking death seems to be not only a way out but also, counterintuitively, a way to be brave.

Read more here.

Image: Actor Leonard Rossiter plays Reginald Iolanthe Perrin, from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, a mid-1970s BBC sitcom. Courtesy: BBC.

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Foreign Accent Syndrome

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As a Brit living in the United States I have first-hand evidence that the British accent is superior to its American counterpart — as judged by Americans themselves. Americans usually characterize a person with a British accent as being more intelligent, more charming, more authoritative and more sincere. Brilliant (for my US audience, “awesome”)!

So, it would come as no surprise to find some Americans imitating the plummy pronunciation of its Old World cousin to score social points. But such impostors are usually universally derided by both Americans and Brits, save for American actors who tend only to be derided by Brits for never quite grasping the Queen’s English.

This leads me to the peculiar case of a Texan woman — with a Texan accent — who developed a British accent after surgery to correct an overbite. Her case in one of only a hundred or so ever documented examples of Foreign Accent Syndrome.

You may well ask, how is this possible? Read more over at Wired.

Image: Keep Calm screenshot. Courtesy: Keep Calm-o-Matic.

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The Two Percent and The Hum

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By some estimates 2 percent of the population can at some time hear a mysterious sound known as “the Hum”. It’s a low pitched, droning noise that seems to have no source, yet comes from all around. The Hum has been heard in tiny Scottish villages, in Florida, Western Canada, New Mexico and other regions around the world. Hearers of The Hum have variously blamed distant diesel engines, remote submarines on maneuvers, underground pipes, industrial generators. The sources have never been definitively identified, and so the Hum sufferers have continued to search in vain for an explanation to the maddening sound.

Various theories — mostly of the conspiracy kind — have been proposed. Some put the sound down to secretive government agencies testing ultra-low frequency mind control. Others believe the sound to come from UFOs or instruments of socialist torture.

A more mundane explanation suggests the mysterious signal to be inside the heads of its listeners — nothing more than a form of irritating tinnitus. But many have remained unconvinced and have sought rational explanations elsewhere. Recently, sufferers and researchers have honed in on a potential source — low frequency oscillations of the Earth caused by long ocean waves on the sea floor.

Read more about The Hum here.

Image courtesy of Google Search.

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Early Adopters of Inconvenient Truths

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Conspiracy theorists are a small but vocal and influential minority. Their views span the gamut of conspiracy theories: holocaust denial, President Kennedy’s assassination, UFOs, extraterrestrials, Flat Earth, alternate technology suppression, climate change, to name just a handful.

The United States is after all host to a candidate for the Presidency who subscribes to a number of conspiratorial theories, and, importantly, there’s even a dating app — Awake Dating — for like-minded conspiracy theorists. Though, the site’s COO Jarrod Fidden prefers to label his members “early adopter[s] of inconvenient truths” over the term “conspiracy theorist”, which, let’s face it, is often used pejoratively.

So, perhaps it serves to delve a little deeper into why some nonsensical and scientifically disproved ideas persist in 2016.

Briefly, it seems that zombie ideas thrive for a couple of key reasons: first, they may confer some level of group identity, attention and/or influence; second, they provide a degree of simplistic comfort to counter often highly complex scientific explanations. Moreover, conspiracy theories do have a generally positive cultural effect — some bring laughter to our days, but most tend to drive serious debate and further research in the quest for true (scientific) consensus.

From the Guardian:

In January 2016, the rapper BoB took to Twitter to tell his fans that the Earth is really flat. “A lot of people are turned off by the phrase ‘flat earth’,” he acknowledged, “but there’s no way u can see all the evidence and not know … grow up.” At length the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson joined in the conversation, offering friendly corrections to BoB’s zany proofs of non-globism, and finishing with a sarcastic compliment: “Being five centuries regressed in your reasoning doesn’t mean we all can’t still like your music.”

Actually, it’s a lot more than five centuries regressed. Contrary to what we often hear, people didn’t think the Earth was flat right up until Columbus sailed to the Americas. In ancient Greece, the philosophers Pythagoras and Parmenides had already recognised that the Earth was spherical. Aristotle pointed out that you could see some stars in Egypt and Cyprus that were not visible at more northerly latitudes, and also that the Earth casts a curved shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse. The Earth, he concluded with impeccable logic, must be round.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Azimuthal equidistant projection, used by some Flat Earthers as evidence for a flat Earth. Courtesy: Trekky0623 / Wikipedia. Public Domain.

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A Reminder That Evil People Exist

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Recently discovered diaries of Heinrich Himmler, the architect of the Holocaust, should serve as a reminder to us all that evil people are in our midst. His diary entries are all the more disturbing for their simple casualness:

January 3, 1943

 

  • 8pm: Dinner

  • 9pm: More meetings, one reacting to news that Nazi-allied police officers in Poland were refusing to fight.

  • 9-10pm: Orders all ten officers be executed and their families sent to concentration camps before going to bed

 

More from the Telegraph:

Newly discovered diaries have revealed the schedule of Heinrich Himmler, the man who planned the Holocaust, which suggests he was more concerned about what he had for lunch than his role in the Nazi massacre of at least six million people.

The documents, uncovered by German newspaper Bild, had been buried in the archive of the Russian ministry of defence in Podolsk near Moscow and were all but forgotten for more than 70 years.

The service diaries, which cover 1938 and the crucial war years of 1943 and 1944, had been snatched by the Red Army towards the end of the war.

Extracts document the hour-by-hour schedule of the reviled SS chief, juxtaposing phone calls with his wife and daughter alongside writs of execution.

Several of them allude to massage appointments taken early in the day which could last up to hours.

Read the entire story here.

Image: Himmler (front right, beside prisoner) visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp in 1936. Courtesy: German Federal Archives. Public Domain.

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How to Tell the Difference Between a Liar and a Bulls**t Artist

In this age of media-fueled online vitriol, denigration, falsehood, and shamelessness — elevated to an art form by the Republican nominee for President — it’s critically important for us to understand the difference between a liar and a bulls**t artist.

The liar is interested in the truth, deep down, but she prefers to hide it behind a veil. The liar often has knowledge or expertise about the truth, but hides it. The bulls**t artist, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal. He is detached from reality caring not for truth or lies; he only cares for his desired effect on his intended audience. The absence of knowledge or expertise is required.

I’ll let you determine to which group Mr.Trump belongs. But, if you need help, check out CNN’s Fareed Zakaria reminding us about Mr.Trump’s unabashed ignorance and bulls**t-artistry.

From the Guardian:

As the past few decades have shown, the trolling mindset is awesomely well adapted to a digital age. It ignores rational argument. It ignores evidence. It misreads, deliberately. It uses anything and everything somebody says against them. To argue with trolls is to lose – to give them what they want. A troll is interested in impact to the exclusion of all else.

Trolls themselves are hairy Nordic creatures who live under bridges, but trolling doesn’t take its name from them. It comes from the Old French verb troller, meaning to hunt by wandering around in the hope of stumbling upon prey. The word made its way into English as a description of similar fishing tactics: slowly towing a lure in hope of a bite.

Then, in the early 1990s, a Usenet group took up the term to describe some users’ gleeful baiting of the naive: posting provocative comments in hope of attracting an outraged “bite”, then winding up their unwitting victim as thoroughly as possible.

In this, trolling is a form of bullshit art. “The essence of bullshit,” argues the philosopher Harry Frankfurt in his 2005 book of the same name, “is not that it is false but that it is phony”.

Both a liar and an honest person are interested in the truth – they’re playing on opposite sides in the same game. A bullshitter, however, has no such constraint. As Frankfurt puts it, a bullshitter “is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false … He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose”.

Once again, impact is all. The total absence of knowledge or expertise is no barrier to bullshit. In fact, it helps. The artistry lies in knowing your audience, and saying whatever is needed in order to achieve a desired effect.

Read the entire article here.

Video courtesy of CNN.

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The Psychopath Test and the Nominee

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks as he accepts the nomination during the final session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder - RTSJ4LA

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know if the potential next President of the United States were a psychopath?

I would certainly like to have the answer, which would seem to be just as important as knowing if the nominee supports a minimum wage increase, universal healthcare, equity for women, and justice for minorities.

So, interestingly enough Keith Olbermann over at Vanity Fair ran Donald Trump through the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. It was developed by Robert D. Hare, a criminal psychologist, in the early 1980s. Still in use today, the 20-point checklist is used as a simple tool (among others) to quickly assess if a subject has mental health issues ranging from brain injury to psychopathy.

Here’s how the checklist works. Take each of the 20 items and score each with either a 0, 1 or 2, with 0 denoting “does not exhibit” and 2 denoting “does exhibit”. The highest score of 40 indicates that the subject has a high potential for being a dangerous psychopath; 30 is the minimum ranking for psychopathic tendencies.

I urge you to read the full article, but in the meantime I’ll excerpt Donald Trump’s score’s on each dimension below:

  • Glibness/superficial charm — 2
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth — 2
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom — 2
  • Pathological Lying — 2
  • Cunning/Manipulative — 2
  • Lack of remorse or guilt — 2
  • Shallow Affect — 2
  • Callous/lack of empathy — 2
  • Parasitic lifestyle — 2
  • Poor behavioral controls — 2
  • Promiscuous sexual behavior — 2
  • Early behavior problems — 2
  • Lack of realistic, long-term goals — 1
  • Impulsivity — 2
  • Irresponsibility — 1
  • Failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions — 2
  • Many short-term marital relationships — 0
  • Juvenile delinquency — 2
  • Revocation of conditional release — 0
  • Criminal versatility — 0

Total score, 32.  There you have it. So, when you vote in November, 2016, please think of the children of the world and the nuclear codes.

Image: Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks as he accepts the nomination during the final session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. Courtesy: PBS / REUTERS/Brian Snyder – RTSJ4LA.

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