Curiosity Over Pride (FYI: To comment, send an e-mail to

Thursday, April 29, 2010


It is hard to even come up with a reasonable account for such behavior. I would be interested in the thoughts of others as to the opinions offered in the article. I will say the Chinese take little time in handing out punishment. I found it interesting they make mention of all the people in China with "mental health disorders" but in the next paragraph make mention that there was "no history of mental illness" in the executed murderer. Why even mention "mental health disorders"?What horror.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Not really sure which file to classify this one in...

Don't you just love Virginians?

I generally find them polite (if not a bit wild as drivers). But now I can thank them for even more job security just as I was beginning to get anxious.

Sometimes I simply have to scratch my head in wonder at how we ever made it beyond tadpole as a species.

Though to be fair, regional variation in genetic differences are a reality. Perhaps Virginia politicians simply have a few extra copies of this residing their cellular nuclei.

I guess it could explain things.

Maybe it will work out for the best if Virginian's form a pay as you go fund which pays for this (Keynesian stimulus package?) with more casinos? ;-)

And another cool vid from Kids Prefer Cheese

My only thought is that if you had to get off at the very next stop, you would have to walk an awfully long distance in a short time in order to make it from the car you entered to the car you needed to leave on.

A Most Excellent Venn Diagram...

H/T Kids Prefer Cheese

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Personally, I just don't see America going anywhere in the near future

On the other hand, Fabius Maximus seems not so sure.

Stephen Karlsson has written an interesting post on the mindset of our allies.

And of course, as many have foretold for many years, the young are beginning to notice we really did screw them.

I guess it's time for a little Some Assembly Required to lighten the load.

We do live in interesting times

Monday, April 26, 2010

Better living through Chemistry?

It seems this one didn't make it into my latest copy of the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Is it fact, fiction, or everything John warned us about? ;-)

I changed the font and template just for fun

Don't be alarmed

FYI (as if it wasn't obvious to all by now) Greece is toast

Push up the date of the health bubble popping. We really should formulate a plan as things like this blow only once in a few lifetimes and you want to be ready when the typhoon comes.

FWIW, it truly is sad we cannot reach agreement as a society. I blame all of us, myself included.

The Doctor is Out.

Where is the door?

I miss Mike

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Condensates II... Breaking Symmetry or Fractals as Templates or "Where does information come from?"

Everything starts with a template, or an original, from which all other "things" are derived.

Imagine a mist where everything is the same. It might be white- e.g. contains all colors- or it might be black- e.g. lacks all color.

Now imagine some random event happens which breaks this state of perfect symmetry. Such a random event might be like the following:

Notice that as a girl enters our white mist, the symmetry of pure white inherent to the original system is broken.

Further, I hope you also notice how the breaking of this symmetry creates a whole new realm of possibilities compared with the original image of pure white. Whereas before we could not say anything particular about the white mist, now we actually know something about it. Specifically we learn a relationship has formed between the mist and its broken symmetry. More specifically, information is created where none existed before.

I hope it is clear to you from this example that symmetry breaking is absolutely necessary for the formation of a template (in this example our template would be the girl in the mist), and it is this template or "difference" which creates "information" from which everything else we understand derives.

I'll let you ponder the implications of this on your own but if you think about it- as Street Dog once shared with us long ago- life is simply impossible without it.

Anyway, as another illustration concerning this point, I would also like to share another image. Note that one cannot establish which glass goes with which place setting until the symmetry is broken and a template relationship is established between one place-setting and one glass. But once the symmetry is broken, all other glass-place setting relationships immediately simultaneously form from the original symmetry break (or template).

I'll continue as it (and free time) come to me but I want to leave you with the following video lest you think this all a crock of... (fill in the blank)

Be well

Friday, April 23, 2010

There is no life west of the Chesapeake Bay

I finally got to take the kids out on the boat tonight

What did you think I would name her? ;-)

On a lighter note

Monty Python and the surreal

The Answer to Global Warming?

The is an opinion piece on CNN's website that is expressing an idea that I have been having lately: namely that nature itself is trying to correct our folly.

As the debate about Global Warming has heated up (sorry, I couldn't resist), in the back of my mind, I have wondered if the earth might not be cooling itself with volcanic eruptions.

Let me say from the outset that I do subscribe to the idea that the earth is warming up -- and that man is having an effect on it. I think the science is clear enough to make such an assumption.

However, volcanoes do cool the environment -- and a large enough volcanic event causes cooling of global temperatures. So much so, that certain volcanoes in the past have caused A Year Without a Summer.

What I fear is that if we do get a cooling event from volcanic activity, it will lead to Global Warming deniers to claim there is no harm from "business as usual."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Condensates Part I

An endless student of cooperation’s art forms, I simply love watching teamwork in action. The fractals of cooperation are truly breathtaking to behold once you latch on. As I watched my oldest play basketball the other day (he was having a great game) I was reminded yet again of this simple truth.

Dividing the whole into its respective parts is probably the ultimate rabbit hole exercise; there are simply an infinite variety of ways to slice a pie so to speak. Yet our high priests of science, our physicists, attempted just this when they created an elaborate division classification system for what they think is most atomic (the word atom derives from the Greek ἄτομος/átomos, α-τεμνω, meaning uncuttable, indivisible, or something which cannot be divided further).

They classified some of these atomic constituents as fermions, which you can think of as the “real” or “substantial” stuff of the atomic world- e.g. electrons, protons and neutrons, etc... And they have classified other atomic building blocks as Bosons, which you can think of as the “unreal” or force-like stuff that builds the atom.

My own pop physics mentality tends to imagine a macro analogy where fermions are the players on a basketball team and Bozons are the big salaries which creates the condensate or the team itself. I’m split on how to actually classify the team. Thoughts would be appreciated…

Anyway it should come as no surprise that others soon realized even fermions might have their own building blocks, e.g. quarks and Leptons. And even quarks and leptons might still have their own building blocks, etc…

And don’t get me going on the Boson building block theory physicists have proposed as I simply don’t understand it… Though I will add some have created cool songs on the subject while others still have made a fortune selling us thrillers on the mysteries of the Higgs-Boson, a.k.a ”the god particle”.

And so it will be interesting to see if physicists ever do reach ground floor of this rabbit hole in division. As far I’m aware, they are not there and I’m skeptical they will ever be- time will obviously tell. Yet I too enjoy playing their game: shifting views from one aspect of one building block to another aspect of another as I “see” the endless fractal structures inherent in “things”. And it is these fractal appellations in the cooperation of teams that circles me back to the original point of my post: fractals, teams, and cooperation.

In the interest of brevity, I'll commence this in part II

Do you ever feel this is the level of dialogue we have reached as a society?

(h/t... I have forgotten which math blog I lifted this image from but it was the same one I pulled the Fibonacci spiral from)

The problems of grammatical aspect in daily communication are very real and even worse in blog communication. I have no solution to this problem so any thoughts on humanity solving it would be greatly appreciated. I fear cooperation impossible without some breakthrough on this issue.

It is what it is

The Ghost Writer

Last night my husband and I went to see Roman Polanski's last opus, "The Ghost Writer".
I am not a big Polanski fan, because I'm squeamish, and outside of Hitchcock films, I don't like having my nerves played on for two hours.
But this film is a MUST SEE, in my book.
I heard (this may not be true...) that it was AFTER Polanski finished this film that the Californian judge resurrected his dossier, with the consequences that most of us know.
Polanski is now under the equivalent of house arrest in Switzerland ; who knows whether he will be extradited or not...
I am not going into the issues surrounding the person of Roman Polanski here.

The film adroitly weaves together an intrigue involving a thinly disguised Tony Blair, who has summoned a nobody ghost writer to continue work on his autobiography, after the initial ghost has met with an unfortunate "accident". While the entire film is a fiction, its context is an historical one. A film/ovni a bit like "The Queen", which I already reviewed here, in an exposé about constitutional/divine right monarchy.
In the course of his assignment, the new "ghost" uncovers troubling facts about his predecessor's death, and is caught up in the political scandal that erupts when the former Prime Minister is accused of authorizing rendition and torture, and comes up for investigation by the International Criminal Court. Our "ghost", secluded in a high security compound on Cape Cod, finds himself inextricably entwined in the passions of his hosts during a political and personal crisis.

What is really remarkable about this film is that AT NO POINT IN TIME does ANY CHARACTER become caricature.
The people who do what they do BELIEVE IN what they are doing/did. Adam Lang, accused of authorizing torture, has an EXCELLENT justification for doing what he did, authorizing torture. He is NOT a monster, not an idiot. He is a.. MAN. With his weaknesses, and his strong points.
These people are not cynically going through the motions, the way we are tempted to believe.
The people who contest him, the bloodthirsty crowd waiting outside his compound to accuse him of being a monster... contains one man who has lost his son in the Irak war.
Another man who is NOT a monster. Who.. believes in what he is doing. Who believes that he is RIGHT to be doing what he does. Bringing Lang to "justice"...
No more/no less, fanatic than some.. terrorists who also believe in what they are doing.
And THIS "fanatic" is supporting the International Criminal Court... Like the bloodthirsty crowd calling for Lang to be judged.
The U.S./U.K. governments do not come out of this film smelling like a rose, and you will see the extent of the totalitarian folly that is omnipresent in the continual obsession about security, and the high tech explosion that accompanies it.
Oddly enough, money takes a firm SECOND place here next to belief as the reason that "explains" WHY we do what we do on this earth... Polanski is an.. idealist. Me too.

This film is NOT diversion/entertainment.
But it is not "glauque" either, as we say in French. There is nothing depressing about it, even if the end is NOT Walt Disney.
It is a meat and potatoes film. Like... Desert Flower.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Too Fat to Fight?

See this news story: Are school lunches a national security threat?

WASHINGTON - School lunches have been called many things, but a group of retired military officers is giving them a new label: national security threat.

That's not a reference to the mystery meat served up in the cafeteria line either. The retired officers are saying that school lunches have helped make the nation's young people so fat that fewer of them can meet the military's physical fitness standards, and recruitment is in jeopardy.

A new report being released Tuesday says more than 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all Americans ages 17 to 24, are too overweight to join the military. Now, the officers are advocating for passage of a wide-ranging nutrition bill that aims to make the nation's school lunches healthier.

In light of my previous post, we should examine our complete diet, not just school lunches; but I doubt that we can be that introspective.

As for exercise, notice how much opposition came from the Republicans in this last health care bill because it supposedly provided funds for playground equipment (and as though that would be a bad thing).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Interesting Posts

Please share your thoughts on this interesting post by Arnold Kling.

I found it particularly interesting in light of the following.

And in a nod to JP's generational dynamics reference, score one for the observers who see even more complexity in this story.

... I guess this alleviates some of the problems then. ;-)

Be well

The Problem With Science is Scientists

This is a brilliant post I read from a guy who blogs as the Last Psychiatrist. I sent it to EVERY bio-psychiatrist I know who loves to talk of brain studies. I love science. I also am skeptical of every such study as it relates to psychiatry. I have been reading them for 20 yrs and they have never told me shit. As I always say: If I beat my dog every day and he gets depressed and I put him in a fMRI and his brain looks different than other dogs do I really understand his problem by looking at the fMRI. This really deserves to be read in whole. I wish I had written this and toyed with lying and said I had. ahahha hha

In a recent fMRI study, a salmon was shown a series of pictures of human faces showing various emotions: can a salmon distinguish them? and what brain regions are involved. 15 pictures, ten seconds each.

I won't bore you with the anatomy. Because of the small size of the brain, exact brain structures could not be distinguished, but something in the brain did light up. A statistically significant number of voxels, comprising an area of 81mm3 in the midline of the brain, were active (p<.0001). So can fish interpret human emotions from a picture? I have no idea. I do know, however, that that fish can't do it: it was dead.


Others have discussed the hows/whys of such false positives and what can be done about them. But there are two other problems not discussed:

These researchers chose a dead fish specifically so they could discuss the issue of false positives and why multiple comparisons correction in MRI studies is important. Thus, we know these results are false positives because we know that the fish is dead. Note carefully, however, that both of the things you know are told to you by the researcher; yet you are valuing one as "truth" and the other as "artifact" based on nothing but his word.

The researchers might have been mistaken about the deadness of the fish-- thus nullifying a potentially interesting finding. Or, they could have lied.

There is no wayno way to check.
You're rolling your eyes, "why would they lie about that?" or "how would they possibly make a mistake about it being dead?" and you're right, about this they wouldn't.

But what about the old studies?

If they do a study in which an anxious person shows weak activity in the amygdala-- how do you know he was anxious? How wrong about the anxiety do you have to be to invalidate the weakness of the MRI findings? Not much.


The danger of the "false positive" discussion is that it is forward looking: from now on, why should tighten our significance thresholds, change the confidence intervals, controls, etc. But what about all the prior data that finds only "moderate positive correlations" using more liberal significance thresholds, that may be infected by invalid behavioral assessments--

--that because of the passage of time alone-- not better data, but time-- are now knowledge?


The biggest problem with MRI studies is that they're hard for the layman to understand. Complexity in science protects prejudice.

Understanding the Anxious Mind, in the NYT Magazine, discusses the science of temperament. Jerome Kagan studied babies, then followed them over the years. Predictably (i.e. what you'd expect the NYT to say), temperament as a baby predicted temperament as an adult, especially in the extreme cases.

They explore the case of the highly anxious "Baby 19" (defined as being distressed by novelty) who, when she was 15, was a plain looking teenager who liked writing, playing the violin, worrying and fidgeting. See? Genetics.

...[Scientists] have put the assumptions about innate temperament on firmer footing, and they have also demonstrated that some of us, like Baby 19, are... born predisposed to be anxious...

...[other scientists] all have reached similar conclusions: that babies differ according to inborn temperament...
You'll observe that those two quotes are about babies-- babies are born a certain way. No argument from me. What they do not say is that the inborn temperament is the reason they are also anxious as adults, but that's the conclusion they make every single time.

"Temperament, it turned out, tended to be stable over those five years, at least in children who started out at the extremes."
Its stability is the evidence that the temperament is biological. If his haircuts are stable over the years, is that biological?

But more importantly, the kids were raised by parents. Parents don't parent in an ideal dispassionate manner, they parent in reaction to the kid in front of them. In other words, kids' temperaments alter the manner in which they are parented, and it's a good bet that the parenting fosters that same temperament. Not a word on that; it's as if it that couldn't possibly be relevant.

And why is testing a four month old's behavior evidence of an innate quality? The first four months of parenting don't count? "Kagan restricted his sample to children who were white, middle class and healthy." Oh. So now all white people are the same?


But that's not real science, real science uses MRIs. If they studied it in an MRI, it must be true.

Teenagers who were in the group at low risk for anxiety showed no increase in activity in the amygdala when they looked at the face, even if they had been told to focus on their own fear. ...In the high-risk kids, even those who were apparently calm in most settings, their amygdalas lighted up more than the others' did.

"Overreactivity in the amygdala" = anxiety. But we don't really know what the amygdala does, nor how it does it, all we know is where it is. Saying something occurred in the amygdala is like saying something occurred in Ohio. "Yes, but we have some sense of what the amygdala does." And I have a sense of what Ohio does, too, it causes trouble in elections and gets its teens to kill themselves.

But at least whether or anxiety is mediated by the amygdala is worth discussing. What you can't do is take a structure that may be involved and therefore conclude that anxiety is an innate trait that is generally stable. Every time I punch someone my shoulder is overactive. Is my genetically mediated shoulder the cause of my alcoholic rages?

And overactive as compared to what? What could possible serve as a control? Seriously, think about this. Point to a guy you believe could be a control in a study measuring what are here defined as subclinical levels of anxiety.

Not every brain state sparks the same subjective experience; one person might describe a hyperaroused brain in a negative way, as feeling anxious or tense, while another might enjoy the sensation and instead uses a positive word like "alert."

None of those words mean anything. Brain state? Hyperaroused? Alert? How can anyone know that the "brain state" that two people are describing differently is the same? These words concepts are so vague that the researcher has to resort to Jungian terms in his descriptions:

The persona can be controlled, but the anima often cannot... Nathan FoxNathan Fox of the University of Maryland says that when the anima erupts in high-risk children, it often takes the form of excessive vigilance and misdirected attention. In the first of his two longitudinal studies...

If you don't even have precise words to describe what you're seeing, how in God's name can you measure it, let alone blame it on the amygdala?


But research has to start somewhere, and my problem isn't with the researchers or their study, nor do I doubt the relevance of genetics. My problem is that when theory is written up in the NYT, it becomes FACT, it becomes the default understanding. This understanding becomes part of our cultural filter. In the same way porn and Cougar TownCougar Town has assured us that women over 40 can have satisfying extra marital sex with 20 year old bicycle messengers, we know that behavior is, in large part, genetically determined.

This is how the article ends:

The predictive power of an anxiety-prone temperament, such as it is, essentially works in just one direction: not by predicting what these children will become but by predicting what they will not. In the longitudinal studies of anxiety, all you can say with confidence is that the high-reactive infants will not grow up to be exuberant, outgoing, bubbly or bold.

Think about this. Think about what the average person now understands to be true.

Still, while a Sylvia Plath almost certainly won't grow up to be a Bill Clinton, she can either grow up to be anxious and suicidal, or simply a poet.


Back to the salmon. The results were statistically significant, but the fish was dead. So we laugh. In 1620, that would have been evidence for the soul, and no one would have laughed.

The problem is the same in both cases. They are questioning the nature of the data. They should be questioning the nature of the fish.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


In line with my last fluff post and at this time having no motivation to post anything of intellectual value(Thai, Dink and Debra are doing great) my post is about a deliciously bad movie I watched last night. In the past I looked for movies to challenge me emotionally and intellectually but entertain me less. Now I have no desire to see suffering on film or think much. As much as I was moved by Debra's post on the movie she saw it was not the kind of film I would likely want to watch. I sit with suffering people all day. I read books or things like this blog to make me think. I want to watch the Soprano's when I sit down to a TV or Lord of The Rings for the 31st time.. Despite knowing better I rented 2012' on Netflix. It is hard for me to even come up with meaningful words to describe how bad this movie is. There are films that are in fact so bad that at some point you begin to enjoy them because they are so bad and you find yourself laughing and unable to turn them off because of this. You sit there slack jaw wondering if the makers knew all along what they were releasing and laughing the entire time. Also because you have invested so much time you feel you have to see it through. Please give me any of your all time worst movies so that I may enjoy them as well.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Jerk Scientists!

And their stupid, stupid data!

Structural Linguistics 101 bis

On the suggestion/provocation of Edwardo, I am forging ahead in structural linguistics.
I want to do a brief recap on what we've already seen, to emphasize the fundamental points.

We saw last time that language is a complex system which is made up of overlapping subsystems. The organizing principle is distinctive opposition of individual elements. Meaning emerges because we oppose the PRESENT occurrence of an individual element to the ABSENT elements that are possible IN THAT CONTEXT. Seeing/hearing differences is the name of the game.
What is LESS evident is that seeing/hearing difference takes place against the PERCEPTION of similarity. In other words, in order to identify the DIFFERENCE between elements (i.e. phonemes, see previous post..) we must FIRST ascertain that we are dealing with two phonemes, THE ELEMENTS ARE OF THE SAME NATURE.
This means that meaning emerges for us from the dialectic tension between observing differences, and observing similarities. We are CONSTANTLY observing and comparing our world.
We are doing this without even realizing that we are doing it.
Look at how many words (elements..) I used to talk about something so elemental that you don't even THINK about what you're doing.
This should ring... alarm bells in your head. To make you realize how incredibly complex your thinking is UNBEKNOWNST to you. You are NOT doing this consciously. Not at all.
You learned how to do this... WITHOUT a book (for your mother language). Without a teacher sitting down and telling you HOW to do it. No formal education to learn this.

Once we start... directing our consciousness on the nature of language.. THE MEDIUM which we are employing to talk about.. the OBJECT, language (comment, Thai ?), it becomes miraculous (in my book..). (We did not ALWAYS direct our consciousness on the nature of LANGUAGE. The ancient Greeks were not CONSCIOUS of language AS OBJECT.)
Cut to an incident involving my 2 1/2 year old son, many years ago now.
One night around midnight, my husband was rocking our insomniac toddler in front of the TV, to try to get him sleepy.
All at once, Mark got really excited, and insisted on being put down.
He ran to the TV, pointed his finger at the screen where a horse race was going on, and said "o-a". He then ran to his room, found one of his favorite cardboard books, "Petit Poney", and brought it out to the living room. He pointed at the cover drawing of petit poney, and once again said "o-a".
The whole incident lasted maybe... 5 minutes ?
Whew.... what an INTELLIGENT 2 1/2 year old ! (No more intelligent than.. YOU, or your wife, or your children, or me, or your cleaning lady too, while we're at it... in this domain, at least...)
Let's decrypt what's going on...
Marc saw... a fleeting image on the screen. He... compared it to the image on the cover of his cardboard book. And he said... "o-a". I maintain that "o-a" is a word. I'll tell you why in a minute.
Now... what do... a two dimensional fleeting image on a screen, a stylized drawing in a book, and a three dimensional animal standing in a field to whom he fed carrots from his stroller, an animal he was afraid to get bitten by..., have in common ? In the absolute all that looks pretty DIFFERENT, doesn't it ? (I should specify that Mark was hearing the word "cheval" all the time, he was hearing the word spoken while reading his story, on the TV, etc.)
What Mark grasped in that instant in front of the TV is that the WORD (element) "o-a" brings together all those different "objects". The word "o-a" represents, takes the place of those objects IN ORDER FOR US TO BE ABLE TO TALK ABOUT THEM TOGETHER.
The word "o-a" is an ENORMOUS generalization. Lots of.. detail disappears in that generalization. And when we string together all those representations OF, we are NOT EVEN THINKING OF what they represent (in many, many cases). We are firmly entrenched IN THE SYSTEM OF LANGUAGE ITSELF.
The last part is the best.
I love playing Sherlock. Where did "o-a" come from ?
There is a comptine in French, a little game called "mon petit cheval". (Cheval means horse, you must know by now...) Like "itsy bitsy spider".
It goes.. "mon petit cheval va AU PAS AU PAS, au trot au trot, au galop, au galop."
When you do it with a child, he is sitting on your knees, and you bounce him very gently for" au pas", then faster for "au trot", then you let it all hang out for "au galop", and everybody, (you too...) gets all excited at going fast.
"O-a" comes from "au pas". It is hard for a littl'un to do the initial consonants at first.
So... Mark was connecting.... the image on the screen, the drawing in his book AND... the comptine itself where THE ONLY COMPARABLE ELEMENT is the word "cheval" itself. The comptine is ONLY LANGUAGE (with the body too, of course. It is incarnated language.)
He was connecting all of this to the word "cheval".
Amazing, huh ?
If you want to see this, find William Gibson's "The Miracle Worker" with Patty Duke and Anne Bankroft. You will see this scene, in the life of Helen Keller. It is an unmistakable, and very moving scene.
One last thing : this corresponds to what Lacanian psychoanalysis calls "le stade du miroir", the mirror stage. The moment when we realize that... OUR NAME represents US in the language system, like all the other words do.
And... of course, there is JUBILATION in this scene. Of course.
Because, in our minds.. language represents power. It gives us POWER over our world.
The power to name is one that we are VERY VERY attached to.
We will get back to this. It is very very important.
Please tell me if there is stuff you don't understand.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mike Schmid. "The High Cost of Living"

Since Debra posted how she was moved by the movie she saw on the mutilation of African women, I decided to do something similar. I am most often moved emotionally by music. Every once in a while I hear an artist that makes me feel that it is criminal that their music is not widely heard. There is so much crap on the radio. Even XM which I have a subscription too. I heard this guy on Pandora. The entire album this comes off of is in my opinion magical as far as the genre. It comes off the album "The High Cost of Living". I know this post carries no intellectual wt. and does not deal with mirror symmetry or complex social issues but damn his music makes me happy. I hope it does that to one of you like it does to me! John


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cherchez La Femme

This translates as "follow the woman". Its a phrase Dumas used for when one is trying to understand a man's inexplicable behavior. There is a method to his madness, but if you didn't realize the madness was caused by his secret pursuit of la femme you wouldn't see the method he is using. Once you know of la femme, everything falls into place.

When we use the term "linear" it means we know the line ("la femme"). When we use the term "non-linear" we don't know the line, but it it out there.

When we see the results of an iterated equation it may look nothing like a line. But if we were lying along the right x-axis and staring "up" the line would be revealed. So perhaps when were trying to sort through complexity we should take comfort that there is an answer out there, somewhere. We just must continue to Cherchez La Femme.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Desert Flower

Last night my husband and I saw Desert Flower, a film made from the autobiography of Waris Dire, a Somalian woman who was a top model and is a renowned activist against the ancestral practice of excision in some African cultures. I don't know if this film is visible in the U.S., if it has already come out or not. I encourage you and your other halves to go see it. It is not a Walt Disney film at all, and will wrench your gut sometimes.
You will leave some feathers in it, as we say in French. You COULD emerge from this film a changed person. Who knows ?

Reducing Waris's story to a petition against excision would be regretful.
Because Waris is an extraordinary flesh and blood person. She WILL NOT let herself be reduced.
Here is a woman who as a child fled across the Somalian desert, alone, on foot, traveling countless miles without food, without shoes to reach Mogadischiu (spelling ??) in order to escape an arranged marriage with a sixty year old toothless neighbor.
Who, through good fortune (...) becomes a slave in the Somalian embassy in London, and manages to avoid being sent home when the embassy closes.
Waris has exceptional intelligence and exceptional will. She knows how to be a reed AND an oak. Both.
She knows how to reach out to the people around her. To ASK for help.
And the people she meets cannot help but be affected by her grace.
Her beautiful smile. Her... innocence.
Chance (or God ?) is looking out for Waris.
The people she rubs up against can SEE how beautiful, how graceful, how exceptional she is.
And they want to help her. Even if she is dirty, uneducated, can barely speak a word of English. Even if she is black.
A miracle, Waris. She transforms (almost) everyone she touches. (That's what GRACE does. It transforms (almost)everyone you touch. And you too.)

I wept all the way through the film.
I... weep when beautiful things happen. I cannot help it.
Seeing how beautiful human beings can be makes me weep with wonder.
I did not weep so much at the "sad", "sordid" events in Waris's life. They were trying, and they made ME sad FOR Waris, but they did not manage to touch me the same way.

It was evident to me that Waris, as someone SO extraordinary would not remain content with the life of a top model, and that she would need to find a larger sense for her life.
It looks like she has found it.
She is the first person to have spoken publicly about excision in Africa.
The excerpts from her U.N. speech on the problem reveal how tactful, how compassionate how... resistant to reduction her view on the question is.
And how personally implicated she is.

Some ramblings...
What does it MEAN to be a woman ?
Am I a woman because I have ? between my legs ?
Is Waris a woman because she DOESN'T have ? between her legs ?
Why do WE mutilate our nature ? given bodies ?
Why.. DON'T we mutilate them ?
I wept in the film for myself. For feeling that being human, since the frontal cortex started mushrooming, means proving that we are DIFFERENT from the dumb animals.
Why do we do this ?
Why do we NEED to do this ?
I think I will NEVER be resigned to this...
Call it.. my PERSONAL revolt...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

LJ Washington


Saturday, April 10, 2010


A short while ago, over there in the jungle, Hell quoted from one of my comments : "it seems that man is an animal that has to have his "fix" of gambling and counting angels on the head of a pin".
I corrected that statement to read that man is an animal that has to integrate risk into his daily living in order to feel fully alive. I don't think that this question can be reduced to the idea, necessarily pejorative in most people's minds, of a fix.
I did NOT say what form that that risk HAD to take. And I did not, I think, make any prescriptive statement about it. But I definitely believe that being vibrantly alive is a positive value.
By being vibrantly alive, I mean the capacity to feel pleasure, and pain INTENSELY, as each presents itself, and without seeking to dull down our senses, or our emotions. Without feeling that the intensity of our emotions is something bad, something that is not normal (pathological) and needs to be controlled at all times. Something that we need to get rid of with drugs, or therapy, for example.

Today I want to talk about another fundamental need that I see in human beings.
The need to believe in magic.
For me, our THWARTED AND DISQUALIFIED need for magic is one of the major forces at work in the... debt bubble.
There is something... miraculous about magic.
In shrink talk in France we talk about pensée magique. Magic thought.
Magic thought is part of our childhood development.
In this shrink context, magic thought means... having things appear out of nowhere.
It means... having lily bulbs spring up automatically the second after planting them, instead of HAVING TO WAIT for them to spend time in the earth over the winter. Being the king of the castle. CREATING the world out of nothing, just for us.
And as adults, we carry around with us at all times the memories of who we were as children, what we thought and believed.
Magic thought, since it is linked with our childhood, is a vital need for us. We NEED to SEE areas of our life where magic is at work. To feel empowered. To counter the feeling of helplessness that the passage of time engenders in us. To resist the despair that accompanies that helplessness.

Magic is at work in... sticking that credit card into the ATM machine and having the bills pop out instantaneously too.

I always say that things hang together.
That means that you can take a look at the smallest part of a human structure, and see in it the structure of the whole. (Right, Thai ?)
That means that if you look at what is going on at the ATM machines on a DAILY basis, ALL OVER THE WORLD, you can ALSO have an idea of what is going on... in sovereign default. At least, in the ATTITUDES that we have towards money, and where it comes from.
What does our daily experience with money tell us AT ONE LEVEL ?
That money comes from.. ATM machines (a little bit like spaghetti growing on trees, right ?).
Now... we may know SOMEWHERE that money does NOT come from ATM machines, but that does not mean that we know EVERYWHERE that money does not come from ATM machines.
(Remember the saying "out of sight, out of mind" ?)
Indeed.... I maintain that we have set up the ATM machines PRECISELY in order to maintain intact an infantile belief that money is magic. Or rather that... GETTING MONEY is magic.
Work is a process that implies duration. Investment too.
Work for money is like sticking the lilies into the ground, in a certain way.
But... sticking the card into the machine is NOTHING LIKE the lilies gig.
It is NOTHING LIKE work.
Now, one of my major premises is that in order of us to be able to think we HAVE to be able to perceive differences BETWEEN. (This premise is founded on the structure of our language.)
And this means that...
Money comes from work "means" something IN OPPOSITION TO... money does NOT come from work.
And working for money "means" something IN OPPOSITION TO ... working NOT for money.
No differences... no money.
No differences... no work.
This "means" that our social body is constantly creating new areas, new terrains where this NEED FOR DIFFERENCE is going to play out.
If you look at this closely you will see that... one of the functions of the financial markets is to materialize that area where "money does not come from work" plays out.
And... "money does not come from work" is a manifestation of our... infantile and oh so human desire for magic in our lives.
This little development is intended to show you, among other things that..
There is NO outside society, for the reason that society is simultaneously defining what it is IN RELATION TO what it is NOT. A paradox, admittedly...
Now of course, this demonstration has NOT taken into account WHO does WHAT, and that is very important.
It is important to US, as individuals.
But think about it.
Is it important to the social body itself, WHO DOES WHAT, and where it comes from, as long as the DIFFERENCE is maintained ?
Perhaps not.
The social body does NOT feel, eat, sleep, get pregnant, die.
Na. It is not human, the social body.
It is us, and not us, at the same time.
Magic, right ?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Environment... Or when boundaries can put the squeeze on

... Today's post takes a line from every emergency physician's handbook: "life in a fishbowl".

Now imagine you are a fish swimming in that same fish bowl when the boundaries of your system suddenly implode (see below). What would happen?

... Or in a nod to JP, perhaps your fish tank manifold or boundary or "world" is a Calabi-Yau fractal (image below)?

Anyway, keep this (or these) images in your head as we shift aspect or viewpoint or frame of reference to New Age "holistic" thinking momentarily and see how our little fish- itself the sum of all its individual little fractal building blocks nested within further fractal building blocks- rests within a larger environment or world or manifold or boundary (chose your term).

PS- I can't but add how pleased I was to find an image of a fish in a matryoshka doll fish bowl. This is truly how my own mind tends to see this issue. For our little fish rests within a near infinite number of boundaries or manifolds, etc... many it simply cannot "see". Yet the boundaries of these larger systems or manifolds which the fish resides within are very real to our fish. And they are absolutely necessary for the formation of the fish's B-E condensate we call consciousness.

That's all before work today

Be well

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


What do you see?

People have discovered in a number of locations around the world such as Thailand and Tennessee where groups of fireflies independently flashing will emergently synchronize their flashes. This is one video of this emergent phenomena.

So is the whole simply the sum of the parts? Is the whole something more? Or is it both?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

G Factor Intelligence

First let me state two things very clearly so there is absolutely no misunderstanding.

One: I think human biodiversity bloggers are simply modern Social Darwinists. And as I will say till I'm blue in the face, at its most flattering, Social Darwinism is pseudoscience. And as I will say in less flattering terms... well, let me just say I'd be happy to indulge any who want to go all ape $#!*&!! on them.

Two: any discussion on what I call "information structures" such as intelligence or consciousness is still bounded with the same communication aspect problem that is inherent to all other communication. And fundamental to any issue concerning aspect is my old friend cooperation. For as Bill Clinton wonderfully illustrated with his "it depends on what the meaning of the word is is", one person can be absolutely truthful, yet not particularly helpful, when they do not cooperate to eliminate aspect problems. And while cooperating communicators usually recognize and automatically adjust to minimize mis-communication around this problem, non-cooperative communicators rarely do, as any trial lawyer will clearly tell you. Hence discussions on intelligence often get plagued with emotional aspects and two people talking about the same thing leave with very different take away messages.

Kind of a version of that old saying you get what you put in.

So let me just say for the record I do not think intelligence is either etched in stone (the endless nature-nurture rabbit hole), nor do I think it particularly useful in predicting a particular individual's future, nor do I think it indicative of "better" or "worse" on any absolute cosmic scale. The universe could care less what your IQ is.

I do however think it can be a useful epidemiological tool when examining groups of people- again you need to be careful how you define this. But I want to be clear, I think it very dangerous when used in the context of any one particular individual, just like sending a patient with chest pain and a normal EKG home can be very risky as well.

... Enough said on this other than I might point out things like this bug me (e.g. the school's use of IQ tests in determining admission), but it is what it is and clearly people are going to do what they are going to do regardless of what I say.

Yet to get back to my post's original point, like everything else in life, the issue of intelligence is "complex", and even an immoral blind squirrel can catch a few nuts now an then. And in particular, I think HBD bloggers have caught a rather interesting nut with their metaphor of an iterative building block they call "g" as the most atomic or irreducible of intelligence sub-structures. And whether g does or does not represent a neuron or something even more atomic, still as a hopeless fractalholic, I think g a wonderful visual metaphor for the fractal nature of the mind and its meta-output information structures we call behavior, intelligence, emotion, judgment, consciousness, etc...

I am very interested in your thoughts and opinions at this point before we move on.

Cliff Notes on Fractals

Okie shared the following video with us a while ago; it is a great intro if you need one.

PS- use this link if the video will not work, I am having a little trouble embedding so this is a backup.

Mysticism and Venereal Disease

What could POSSIBLY be the relation between mysticism and venereal disease ??...

It took me a long long time to realize what mysticism was, and that I was a mystic.
Oddly enough, you MAY NOT BELIEVE THIS, BUT...
If I said that I was a mystic in the Bible belt, in the company of some of those people who I get the feeling that most people reading this blog don't understand and can't even believe exist, they would probably eye me strangely, and move stealthily towards the edge of their seats in much the same way that...
You get the point.
I had my first mystical experience when I was 14 years old.
It was pretty exciting, and did not scare me at all.
It was outside my piano teacher's house, while waiting for a lesson.
I was standing underneath his weeping willow, and all of a sudden...
No, the heavens did NOT open, and I did NOT see a vision of the Father, the Son, etc etc.
Something about the structure of that willow's leaves (are they leaves ?).
The... MATHEMATICAL regularity of those willow leaves looked a lot like what I saw in Van Gogh's paintings.
So, obviously, TO ME, I was seeing this scene LIKE Van Gogh had seen it.
I was seeing LIKE Van Gogh saw.
(The mystical experience was in the WAY that I was seeing, not in seeing LIKE Van Gogh.)

Lots of people think that Van Gogh was a loony. Probably Van Gogh thought he was a loony too. His family.
Not me.
I think that Van Gogh had mystical experiences of SEEING THE WORLD in a DIFFERENT WAY. Particularly nature, of course. And that unfortunately, he did NOT have access to a mentor who could help him understand the nature of his gift, and his severely... PROTESTANT upbringing must have made it very very difficult for him to understand what was happening to him. Like another man. Carl Gustav Jung.
Of course... this is ANOTHER form the question of POINT OF VIEW takes.
Consciousness, if you like.
Which brings us back to Doctor John's post on ketchup a short while ago, and his commentary on direct vs indirect experience. You cannot learn mysticism from a book, not from reading ABOUT it.
There is NO MORE DIRECT experience than mystical experience, I believe. There is no ABOUT in mystical experience.
(What is the DIFFERENCE BETWEEN I believe and I think ? Another.. rabbit hole.)
These days, my mystical experiences have become an integrated part of my existence.
This WAY OF SEEING is like a warp that goes through my entire existence. It bears my.. DAILY, ROUTINE EXISTENCE up. Gives it intense meaning.
It.. scares some people.
It used to scare me. Not any more.
Of course, one of the BIGGEST PROBLEMS with mystical experiences is that they exist at the very spot where language.. comes together ? Fails ?
You can't talk ABOUT them.
So... what do you do ?
You make the words do what mystical experience does.
You.. LET the words do what mystical experience does.
You let the.. notes, the fingers do what mystical experience does.
A translation ? Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know.
One last thing.
Lots of people seem to think that mysticism=God.
Na. It's a lot more complicated than that. A LOT more.
Who knows ?... YOU may be having mystical experiences, but you don't recognize them as such.
Those rabbit holes...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Part II of Consciousness... Scale Free Networks

Per Dr. John, Part II of my consciousness posts explaining why I think B-E condensates explains consciousness will continue...

... And just like the last post, the issue of where to begin this discussion is not entirely clear.

Yet we have to start somewhere, so I will take an additional detour into netork theory, and to a particular kind of network known as scale free networks, a classic example of which might be the world wide web.

As there are many types of networks (the above diagram is a simple example), and any discussion on networks is rabbit hole in itself; still I will gloss over this line of discussion in the interest of brevity.

... But I would like to comment that scale free networks are unique as they follow power law distributions. And power laws are laws- or relationships- which follow powers of an original template no matter a template's size or shape- e.g. power laws are self similar or fractal (no matter how much they fracture, the still look the same). A classic example is the formula for the area of a circle: the formula for the area of a circle is the same no matter how large or small the circle is (Πrˆ2 is always true).

PS- If you notice a certain similarity to self similar and self-referential, I would suggest you hold on to your hat as others have noticed this similarity too. I should be obvious that self referential similarly holds true no matter how large or small an individual is. ;-)

Anyway, any discussion of networks and scale free might occupy many posts, and as we need to move on, lets do so with the understanding that I will answer whatever questions I can in comments.

It has been along day so I will stop here but I will add that if you have trouble following this, let me know in comments.

Be well

PS- this is a very good Scientific American article for those unfamiliar with scale free networks (it is a .pdf and therefore takes a little while to download with online viewing)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pop Physics... Or otherwise known as aspect or "under certain conditions"

Not knowing where to begin this post, I shall instead pick up from where Dr. John responded to Dink's question on consciousness, namely: "We talk of consciousness when we really have not even agreed on what that means."

For although I have had zero formal linguistic training, and am probably therefore on very shaky ground- still I think it important to remember that an inability to get agreement on this issue should be very little cause for alarm.

For one of the greatest problems inherent in all communication is my old friend grammatical aspect... or sometimes referred to as point of view or frame of references.

I have read that English is apparently a particularly bad language at reminding its users of the inherent problems of aspect/point of view in communication. Not knowing if this is true or not, I will chose to believe it until I learn otherwise. Still I suspect that aspect causes communication errors in any language. It seems so easy to forget the aspect or vector of approach when we communicate, etc...

Further, as I am visual/geometric thinker, and tend to think of all things using geometry as metaphor, and in particular tend to visualize aspect as akin to an incoming/approaching jet airplane attempting to land on a runway. Clearly some angles of approach will lead to safety, others to disaster.

Perhaps the most famous recent example of how aspect is often ignored at our own peril occurred when Bill Clinton correctly made the following famous comment:

Clearly linguists everywhere smiled in ironic acknowledgment as they realized Bill Clinton must have paid very close attention in class. ;-)

Anyway, I say all this as introduction to the subject of consciousness, which I hope we will all explore together in coming posts. I will share with you why I think consciousness is a quantum phenomena of a particular type of scale free network called a Boze-Einstein Condensate and would very much appreciate your thoughts on this matter. I hope you'll also all come to understand my reference to "under certain conditions" in relation to "aspect"; clearly I am no expert on consciousness.

Until next post, be well all.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Most Fabulous Object In The World

(The title of this post pays homage to the great movie "Time Bandits")

Our recent discussions involving consciousness got me curious about what other people have thought up so far. So I type "theories of consciousness" into Google. As always, wikipedia popped up close to the top and lured me in with a nice summary of the situation.

Under the Evolutionary Biology section I found this:

Budiansky, by contrast, limits consciousness to humans, proposing that human consciousness may have evolved as an adaptation to anticipate and counter social strategems of other humans, predators, and prey.[38] Alternatively, it has been argued that the recursive circuitry underwriting consciousness is much more primitive, having evolved initially in premammalian species because it improves the capacity for interaction with both social and natural environments by providing an energy-saving "neutral" gear in an otherwise energy-expensive motor output machine

This is alluring. Adaptation loves energy-saving devices. Elsewhere in the wiki someone posited that consciousness wasn't needed until "culture" came about (I interpret this as group selection literally guiding physical changes).

Another section brought up Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. I've never read this book, but I keep coming across it. Smart people have heralded it and then denounced it. Its weird. But could it fit with the Stroke of Insight author's experience? I may have to breakdown and buy the weird thing. Stolen sentences include:

Subjective conscious mind is an analog of what is called the real world. It is built up like a vocabulary or lexical field whose terms are all metaphors or analogs of behavior in the physical world. Its reality is of the same order as mathematics. It allows us to shortcut behavioral processes and arrive at more adequate decisions. Like mathematics, it is an operator rather than a repository. And it is intimately bound up with volition and decision.
...and page 65...

It operates by way of analogy, by way of constructing an analog space with an analog "I" that can observe that space, and move metaphorically in it.
...and perhaps most tellingly, page 66...

there is nothing in consciousness that is not an analog of something that was in behavior first.

Really, what is the use of all the other wonders of the world if we don't have a conscious to admire them with? Hence, it is The Most Fabulous Object In The World.

"Good" Friday

Sorry for being testy this week.
This is a rough time of year for me.
This week is Passion week.
The week where we celebrate the major events in the last week of Jesus Christ's life.
His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey on Palm Sunday (last Sunday in the calendar), was an open declaration of war to the Jewish authorities.
He knew his texts. The Messiah was supposed to enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey in the texts...
And today is the anniversary of his Crucifixion....
This week, at the same time I mourn the ultimate injustice of a mock trial, a political farce, beating, scapegoating an innocent man, a painful, drawn out public execution, I mourn my dead parents, and remember others around me who have died. I also think of the countless others, the named and nameless others who have suffered Jesus Christ's fate, and who are YET to suffer his death (in my mother country, in China, in Saudi Arabia, by lethal injection, hanging, beheading, who knows...).
And my two precious religious traditions, Catholic and Protestant, and their very different ways of commemorating Jesus' death.
If you take a look at Hieronymus Bosch's "Carrying of the Cross", a small panel, you will see a pale faced Jesus, eyes closed, clutching the cross, while around him the bestial figures of men and women excited like bloodhounds at the prospect of what's to come. To the side, Veronika holds the handkerchief that she used to wipe the sweat from Jesus's face. (Catholic tradition)
Jesus is like a... Eucharistic wafer gleaming in the midst of an impenetrable darkness.
What did he say ? "I am the Light". Yes, in this painting, he is the ONLY light.
Cut to the Matthaus Passion. Johann Sebastian Bach.
Another great mystic, albeit a Protestant one.
No idols, no pictures, no.. cathedrals for the Protestants.
But... the Matthaus Passion is one enormous cathedral built to house Jesus Christ.
And right smack dab in the middle of this cathedral there is a triptych.
A choral part, where the choir is the crowd, and they scream "Crucify him".
Music as modern, as gut wrenching as any that has ever been written. Terrifying.
And you can.. hear the people in Bosch's painting.
You can hear how they have become ? not animal... just another facet of human, which means.. US, and not THEM. (Remember the Milgram experiment...)
Right after you hear the soprano aria : "Aus liebe will mein Heiland sterben". Out of love my Savior is willing to die. And this aria represents... the small, quiet nest of calm right in the middle of that terrible storm, that nest where Veronika takes out her handkerchief and wipes the sweat from Jesus' face. A tender, merciful gesture.
Music which is almost atonal, almost outside the system, that's how moved Bach is to be recounting this episode from HIS point of view. What founds his faith. What he believes in, right down to the roots of his being.
Then the choir picks up again, and the moment is engulfed in "Crucify him" again..

This is Good Friday.
The day that I remember that I am constantly called on to choose between playing the part of... Veronika, or the crowd that screams "crucify him".
That I am constantly called on to try to see Jesus Christ in my neighbor, even when I want to see one of the members of the crowd.
When I try to remember how weak I am to achieve this, even when I am congratulating myself about how well I am doing it.
And of course, all of this would be intolerable without the promise of the Resurrection.
An even greater mystery. THE mystery.

Lest you think that I am trying to convert you..
How could I be trying to convert you when I am understanding this AS I GO ALONG ?
"Making it up" as I go along ?
Be well, as Thai says.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fools

Hey... one of my unreachable goals in life has always been to...LIGHTEN UP.
This is something that I don't do well at all. I have been trying for years. It doesn't get any easier...

It is April Fools Day today.
A great tradition.
If I were running for political office, I think that I would decree that the first day of every month should be April Fools Day.
Way back when in France, when French television was STILL a public service, STILL EXCELLENT, I used to love poring over our rather intellectual weekly TV magazine on April Fools week to try to find the "canular". The joke.
Sometimes it was really sophisticated stuff. You had to exercise your neurons to pick up WHERE the joke was. It was not immediately obvious.
I wish somebody here (Thai ? Dink ?) would stick down a link with some famous April Fools jobs.
A couple memorable ones... (a gift from my loony forum. Can't stick down the link cause it's all in French, and you wouldn't understand, I assume.)
In 1957 the BBC announced that the Italian spaghetti trees were doing nicely, and that the upcoming spaghetti harvest was going to be fabulous (can't find a good word here.. a bumper crop ?? maybe like a... BULL crop...)
The BBC got tons of mail. People, uh, really believed that spaghetti grew on trees...
(Amazing what people will believe when they want to, right ?)
And in France, one of the papers announced that the Elysée had decided to unbuild the Tour Eiffel and move it to Disneyland where it would be reconstructed. Replacing the Tour Eiffel on site with a giant stadium for the 1992 Olympics (I could be wrong on the date...). Lots of mail on that one too...

I think that we could bring back the Roman Saturnalias with great profit...
Think of it... a MONTH where all of the big bosses, the.. Presidents, the heads of state, the PEOPLE WHO COUNT, the stars, would trade places with... janitors. Loonies. The little guys. The down and outs. The less down and outs. The middle class... (well, not JUST the middle class, we already saw this act during the French revolution, and look where it got us...)
I think that this kind of social regulation would be a very good idea.
Beyond the fact that it would do our leaders a world of good getting some hands on direct experience of down and out--
It would do worlds of good combating scapegoating, for example.
When you got fed up, you would say to yourself... "just one more week, one more day, one more month and I get to parade around as Barack..."
Wouldn't that be fun now ?

(A week ? A month, the Saturnalias ? I will stand corrected if anybody wants to correct...)

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits

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