January 11, 2011

RIP, David Noble [10:11 am]

A 1979/80 TPP Proseminar picture; Dave Noble is far left

I learned today that Dave Noble (far left in the image above), a real intellectual light of my graduate school experience at MIT’s Technology and Policy Program, died December 27, 2010.

NOBLE, David Franklin - Passed away suddenly in Toronto on December 27, 2010, David F. Noble was an internationally acclaimed scholar and courageous activist, most recently on the faculty of York University. Born in New York City, he had held positions at MIT, the Smithsonian Institution and Drexel University, as well as many visiting professorships. Dave prized truth, justice and integrity and he often found himself in conflict with powers-that-be. His numerous books challenged core ideas and major institutions of technology, science, corporate capitalism and higher education. As a relentless activist against injustice, he took the risks that no one else would take. Despite his public persona, Dave was an intensely sweet, loving and compassionate person, a proud father of three talented daughters, and a passionately loving husband who celebrated life. He treasured his summers in the Vermont woods with his family, his many devoted friends, colleagues and allies, and the transcendent pleasure of music and nature. Dave is survived by his wife Sarah Dopp of Toronto; daughters Clare O’Connor of Toronto, Helen O’Connor of Toulon, France and Alice O’Connor of Vancouver, BC; sister Jane Pafford of Arcadia, Florida; brothers Doug Noble of Rochester, New York and Henry Noble of Seattle, Washington. A public memorial service will be announced in the coming weeks.

Published in the Toronto Star on December 30, 2010

Some of my TPP students have heard me speak of what an outstanding experience it was to take classes from David. The obituary gets it exactly right — David was at least as much an activist as a scholar, and it was a privilege to learn from him.

[As an aside, I am intrigued by (a) the fact that the Toronto Star's obituary archive is handled by Legacy.com; (b) the fact that Legacy.com runs a virtual "condolence book" as a business proposition (you get to pay to keep it live); and (c) the fact that, as soon as I posted a note, I was invited to add a link to my Facebook wall.

The world continues to evolve and change at a ridiculous rate, mediated by technology in ways that David was particularly interested in exploring and interpreting in his unique fashion.]

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December 15, 2010

From The Rare Earths Front [9:34 am]

I recognize that this isn’t really on-topic, but it’s interesting to watch the way that this issue is being orchestrated in the press. Today’s New York Times trumpets Economy Vulnerable to Rare Earth Shortages, Report Says [pdf].

The United States is too reliant on China for minerals crucial to new clean energy technologies, making the American economy vulnerable to shortages of materials needed for a range of green products — from compact fluorescent light bulbs to electric cars to giant wind turbines.

So warns a detailed report to be released on Wednesday morning by the United States Energy Department. The report, which predicts that it could take 15 years to break American dependence on Chinese supplies, calls for the nation to increase research and expand diplomatic contacts to find alternative sources, and to develop ways to recycle the minerals or replace them with other materials.

At least 96 percent of the most crucial types of the so-called rare earth minerals are now produced in China, and Beijing has wielded various export controls to limit the minerals’ supply to other countries while favoring its own manufacturers that use them.

It’s interesting that we seem to be in a 30 year cycle when it comes to thinking about resource scarcity and what to do about it.

Why do the Chinese have such a high fraction of the supply? Because they sell it cheaper than anyone else — period. Rare earths are found in lots of places; the “rare” is a historical artifact of the difficulty of their extraction, rather than any character of their abundance in the earth’s crust.

And why is it cheaper? Partly because of government support (in financing and in looking the other way when it comes to environmental harm) and partly because of a conscious effort to use this market power to try to capture the technologies that employ these materials — strong magnets, specialty sensors/controls, etc.

Are industries vulnerable? Well, yes, but only as much as they are vulnerable to supply disruptions generally. And firms have strategies to combat some of these (stockpiles, etc.). Moreover, each time the Chinese play games with their rare earth market power, they undermine themselves, because consumers get nervous and start making plans to be more efficient in their use of what they have, exploring alternatives and substitutes, and developing better recycling and recovery technologies.

But, I guarantee that this report and the consequential press fallout will be used to get the US government to intervene in these markets, and it will result in the usual counter-productive effects: overdevelopment of underperforming mines, stockpiling leading to gross market manipulation, and institutional corruption. Arguments will be made for exceptionalism and that the lessons of the past will have been learned — except for the lesson that says we collectively come up with this “issue” every 30 years, with occasional disastrous results when the political forces are aligned just right, rather than recognizing a simple economic fact reducible to a simple Socratic dialog:

Q: How do you know that something is scarce?

A: It has a price.

We have taken advantage of the fact that the Chinese elected to undervalue their resource to get market share. Now that they are talking about revising the price and availability of their resource, market incentives will convince investors to develop other sources of the material, or find out ways to make do with less. That’s what markets do — it’s why we put up with all their failures; this is what they are specifically set up to deal with. So, it’s something to work on, yes — but to present it as a crisis is a gross misrepresentation of the situation.

For sheer amusement, nothing can beat the title of this article, but I would highly recommend it: You Don’t Bring a Praseodymium Knife to a Gunfight, from Foreign Policy [pdf].

Later: Interesting — the report is still not posted, but the DOE.gov site blog now points to this webcast that was supposed to start at 9:30AM (no time zone indicated, of course) from CSIS Rare Earth Elements: Geology, Geography and Geopolitics. Maybe the report will turn up once the webcast begins….

Finally released: Department of Energy Releases New Critical Materials Strategy; the report: US Department of Energy Critical Materials Strategy.

And *shock* the executive summary includes the following:

DOE’s strategy with respect to critical materials rests on three pillars. First, diversified global supply chains and multiple sources of materials are required to manage supply risk. This means taking steps to facilitate extraction, refining and manufacturing here in the United States, as well as encouraging additional supplies around the world. In all cases, extraction and processing should be done in an environmentally-sound manner. Second, substitutes must be developed. Research leading to material and technology substitutes will improve flexibility to meet the material needs of the clean energy economy. Third, recycling, reuse and more efficient use could significantly lower world demand for critical materials. Research into recycling processes coupled with well-designed policies can help make recycling economically viable over time.

While stockpiling *is* cited in the next paragraph, it almost appears as if the report writers decided to consult and listen to some real resource economists. Of course, we’ll see what the typical industry apologists have to say, but it’s not as scary as I had feared — at first blush, anyway.

We’ll see how I feel after I read the whole report.

Later: from Chapter 9; p 108

Based on preliminary analysis, this Strategy does not recommend stockpiling critical materials for potential use in commercial clean energy technologies at this time. The demand projections for material use in clean energy technologies presented earlier in the Strategy highlight the difficulties in accurately forecasting material requirements due to uncertainties in market conditions, choice of component technologies among manufacturers and competing demands. From a practical standpoint, these factors would make it difficult to develop a national industrial stockpile with sufficient material stocks and flexibility. Even if material requirements could be calculated with a reasonable degree of certainty, the U.S. Government would incur significant upfront costs and downside risk to develop a stockpile sufficient to meet domestic material demand. Maintaining a national stockpile would also put the government at risk of distorting market price signals for key materials by competing with the private sector for materials on the open market. However, given the demonstrated interest of other nations, such as China, in stockpiling, this issue merits further study.

There’s still wiggle room (as well as a preceding section about government support for domestic industry development and price supports), but it’s probably necessary to head off those who have been screaming for a market intervention for the past year or so. Nice!

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October 27, 2010

Looking Forward To Getting Past November 2, 2010 [5:13 pm]

Not that I expect to be happy with the outcome, of course.

But I’m tired of being depressed by being repeatedly pounded with the message that says “Anyone who disagrees with <fill in a political/policy position here> is sub-human and evil.”

That may seem like an expedient plan for election (and shame on the electorate for embracing it as much as we have so far), but we’ve already gone so far down that slippery slope of dehumanizing opponents that we get head-stomping rationalizations masquerading as political action and, worse, supporters of the position.

This has got to stop, or we’re all going to end up wishing we lived in the Wild West.

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June 30, 2010

Depressing, But Unsurprising [9:18 am]

Glenn Greenwald points to a Kennedy School of Government student paper that confirms what anyone who regularly reads a newspaper has noticed over the past decade: Torture at Times: Waterboarding in the Media

Abstract

The current debate over waterboarding has spawned hundreds of newspaper articles in the last two years alone. However, waterboarding has been the subject of press attention for over a century. Examining the four newspapers with the highest daily circulation in the country, we found a significant and sudden shift in how newspapers characterized waterboarding. From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27). By contrast, from 2002?2008, the studied newspapers almost never referred to waterboarding as torture. The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63). The Wall Street Journal characterized the practice as torture in just 1 of 63 articles (1.6%). USA Today never called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture. In addition, the newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator. In The New York Times, 85.8% of articles (28 of 33) that dealt with a country other than the United States using waterboarding called it torture or implied it was torture while only 7.69% (16 of 208) did so when the United States was responsible. The Los Angeles Times characterized the practice as torture in 91.3% of articles (21 of 23) when another country was the violator, but in only 11.4% of articles (9 of 79) when the United States was the perpetrator.

As Greenwald notes, that’s why they’re called the “Establishment media.” Too bad that’s not what the phrase used to mean.

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August 25, 2009

Missing the Point [8:14 am]

No, the issue is not whether “the risks justified the results;” the issue is what sort of a people are we prepared to be? If honoring human dignity is not a universal principle of governance, does that mean that, as a matter of course, we will embrace expediency instead? And, what does it mean for our current leadership that it has had to be forced by an NGO to take even this little action to begin to address the cancerous legacy of this ugly construction of governance that the preceding Administration (or Administrations) have elected to pursue: C.I.A. Abuse Cases Detailed in Report on Detainees (pdf)

The report found that the interrogations obtained critical information to identify terrorists and stop potential plots and said some imprisoned terrorists provided more information after being exposed to brutal treatment.

But the inspector general’s review raised broad questions about the legality, political acceptability and effectiveness of the harshest of the C.I.A.’s methods, including some not authorized by the Justice Department and others that were approved, like the near-drowning technique of waterboarding.

“This review identified concerns about the use of the waterboard, specifically whether the risks of its use were justified by the results, whether it has been unnecessarily used in some instances,” the report said, and whether the frequency and volume of water poured over the prisoner’s mouth and nose exceeded the Justice Department’s legal authorization.

The ACLU’s announcement, with links to all documents so far obtained: ACLU Obtains Detailed Official Record Of CIA Torture Program

Related (unfortunately): U.S. Says Rendition to Continue, but With More Oversight (pdf)

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August 24, 2009

Change I CANNOT Believe In [3:28 pm]

It’s increasingly easy to understand those who don’t know why they even bothered to vote: Rendition of Terror Suspects Will Continue Under Obama

The Obama administration will continue the Bush administration’s practice of sending terror suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation, but will monitor their treatment to insure they are not tortured, administration officials said on Monday.

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August 4, 2009

OT: Alex Beam Got The Title Right [7:21 am]

But this may be the funniest fallout of our local town/gown contretemps that I’ve read yet (albeit a little *too* localized for those not familiar with Cambridge): A tale told by an idiot (pdf)

BARACK: Who is the man, and what is his crime?

AXELROD: ’Tis the Most Exalted University tutor Gates. Back has he spoken to the Sheriff, unbidden.

BARACK: Gates? I know this man. We have supped together on the enchanted Isle of Martha’s Vineland. I have seen him with Lady Oprah, prating about his ancestry.

AXELROD: Perhaps a photo op, my lord? We invite Gates and the Sheriff here, quaff ale in the summer heat, and proclaim peace and brotherhood among all men.

BARACK: And savor tobacco from the Duke of Marlboro?

AXELROD: Not with the people watching, sire. (Turns to page) Summon them here!

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July 29, 2009

OT: A Surprise This Morning [8:44 am]

I don’t know why, but it appears that The Boston Globe has made a change in its delivery schedule; to wit, one can now find the current issue in the Kendall Square vending machines before 7AM! Of course, I have also noticed that the machine where I used to have to stop to get a paper early in the morning has been EMPTY the past two days, so it’s clearly a zero-sum game when it comes to paper delivery — but I do think that they might even be trying to rework their supply logistics.

Or, it could just mean that the regular delivery driver is on vacation this week.

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July 23, 2009

OT: Slow Motion Train Wreck [7:27 am]

And, by that I mean the President’s health care initiative. Last night’s press conference (pdf) was such a snoozer of wonkitude that I quit watching after about 25 minutes.

The President clearly was given some good talking points, which clearly were aimed at showing the public who will be the real victims of the the Republican strategy of obstruction to “break” Obama — those either currently or prospectively ill-served by the health care system; i.e., all of us. But, his heart clearly wasn’t in it. He could have taken those stories of families suffering, children dying, etc. and hung them around the necks of the Republican leadership, but he didn’t go for the throat.

Or rather, he didn’t go for the throat on health care. But he did offer up this discussion and, as Salon notes, it was the only point in the conference where he really seemed like the political firebrand he can be (the NYTimes article makes the same observation — pdf):

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Recently, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested at his home in Cambridge. What does that incident say to you? And what does it say about race relations in America?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I — I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here.

I don’t know all the facts. What’s been reported, though, is that the guy forgot his keys, jimmied his way to get into the house; there was a report called into the police station that there might be a burglary taking place.

So far, so good, right? I mean, if I was trying to jigger into — well, I guess this is my house now, so — (laughter) — it probably wouldn’t happen.

(Chuckling.) But let’s say my old house in Chicago — (laughter) — here I’d get shot. (Laughter.) But so far, so good. They’re — they’re — they’re reporting. The police are doing what they should. There’s a call. They go investigate. What happens?

My understanding is, at that point, Professor Gates is already in his house. The police officer comes in. I’m sure there’s some exchange of words. But my understanding is — is that Professor Gates then shows his ID to show that this is his house, and at that point he gets arrested for disorderly conduct, charges which are later dropped.

Now, I’ve — I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.

And number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcing disproportionately. That’s just a fact.

What?! “I don’t know all the facts.” “[T]he Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.”

If this were the words of the President’s predecessor (whose foibles are well known), then one might understand them. But these are the words of a professor of constitutional law from a leading US law school! Moreover, as anyone from the Boston area can tell you, this story keeps changing by the day, with details changing and continuous shifting of strategic positions all around. (See, for example, today’s competing articles from the Globe: Obama scolds Cambridge police (pdf); Sergeant at eye of storm says he won’t apologize (pdf); Professor is down-to-earth, friends say (pdf); Machismo and the Gates incident (pdf))

The kindest interpretation of the President’s words is that he is unhappy that his friend is at the center of this kind of mess. But there are plenty of interpretations that are less benign and, worse, far more damaging to the President’s political capital — at a time when he needs every bit of that capital to make progress on the agenda item that brought him to the podium last night in the first place. The LAST thing the President should be doing is weighing in on something he acknowledges he knows nothing about when he has some REAL work to get done.

Was it bad staffing? Poor political advice? Who knows? But the damage is done.

First, after listening to the comments on the local NPR affiliate during my morning shower, I raised the above topics with my wife. Then, I had the depressing experience of listening to the local Fox affiliate’s political “bombasticator” outline exactly the same argument, spun exactly as you would expect from a Fox outlet.

And then I picked up this morning’s Boston Globe — and what do you supposed was the headline above the fold?

Exactly.

Distraction; fixation on celebrity; commenting on things best left to existing institutions; working outside the institutions, rather than relying upon them.

Explain to me again how this is “change I can believe in?”

Prediction: If Ted Kennedy dies before the end of the summer, health care reform will die with him. This White House blew its chance last night, because I can guarantee that the discussion for the next week is going to be about race, and not about health care. And then it’s August.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Some other links:

Later: it starts — Officer Defends Arrest of Harvard Professor (pdf).

On Thursday, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, clarified President Obama’s comments to a pool reporter on Air Force One. “Let me be clear: he was not calling the officer stupid, O.K.?” Mr. Gibbs said. He added that the president was simply saying that “at a certain point the situation got far out of hand, and I think all sides understand that.”

Didn’t our last President also need to have his words “explained” after the fact?

Also — see this: Obama Complains About the News Cycle but Manipulates It, Worrying Some. Moreover, there’s at least one person at the New York Times who thinks it *was* a political move — President Obama, Professor Gates and the Cambridge Police

This was no exceptionalist rant. Speaking to Mr. Robinson, the president used the first-person plural revealingly when he said: “I do think it is important for the African-American community, in its diversity, to stay true to one core aspect of the African-American experience, which is we know what it’s like to be on the outside.”

[...] People who have heretofore viewed Mr. Obama as a “postracial” abstraction were no doubt surprised by these remarks. This could be because they were hearing him fully for the first time.

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July 21, 2009

I Can’t Resist [8:01 am]

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June 9, 2009

An Excellent Post-WWDC Keynote Thought [7:51 am]

You can live without the new iPhone, but its getting harder to live without the App Store

There is, of course, an irony in Apples success. For years, Apple fans claimed that the company made the best PCs in the world hands down. Nevertheless, it was hard to argue with the fact that Windows PCs simply ran more programs. Now Apple is in the position once occupied by Microsoft. Over the next few years, Palm, Research in Motion, Nokia, Sony and others are sure to create some transcendent mobile devices. But the hardware hardly matters anymore. How is anyone going to compete with all these amazing apps?

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May 4, 2009

The Boston Globe’s Death Spiral [7:01 am]

You know, I wanted to read this article the way I usually do — reading a copy of the paper over an iced tea and a toasted bagel at my local Au Bon Pain. I’ve even made the concession to buying the paper each day from one of the newspaper vending machines that pepper my neighborhood because the delivery company for the Globe subscription service can’t seem to get it to my home before I leave for work (and routinely delivered it regardless of any request I made for vacation stoppages — even delivering it a full six months after the Globe had cancelled my subscription for non-payment because they changed the look of their bills and I kept throwing them out with the junk mail).

I even have made the effort to find the vending boxes that are filled early, because the one that is near the Au Bon Pain where I like to eat doesn’t get filled until after 8:00 AM, when I have been in my office working for over an hour.

But, this morning, I ended up having to read this article online because the vending machine wouldn’t take my $0.75 — probably because it was not reset from the Sunday price of $2.50.

Or maybe the machine was just broken — like the entire Boston Globe distribution model. *sigh*

Globe negotiations continue (pdf)

Boston Globe management was continuing to negotiate concessions with its major unions well past a midnight deadline, but said it was prepared to file a plant closing notice with the state today if they failed to reach agreement. That would allow the paper’s owner, the New York Times Co., to follow through on its threat to shutter the 137-year-old newspaper.

You know, when I changed my (fully paid up) subscription from daily to Sunday only, I wasn’t even asked “why?” — the person on the other end just took the necessary information and then let me go.

When you can’t even deliver the physical object in a timely fashion, what makes you think you can call it “news” anymore?

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April 29, 2009

Not Just A Problem With Flu Coverage [5:25 pm]

Frankly, I believe that our last 6-9 months of financial news coverage has been an even more egregious illustration of this problem, and has really gone over this “fine line:” Coverage of Flu Outbreak Walks a Fine Line (pdf)

“I get people who see the media, and people who are anxious to begin with will use this as an outlet for their anxiety,” said Dr. Joseph Rahimian, an infectious-disease specialist at St. Vincent’s.

Without the news media the public would be dangerously unaware of the swine flu outbreak, but perhaps without saturation coverage on cable news networks and the velocity of information on the Internet, the public would not be so hysterical, medical professionals said.

“It’s a fine line between educating people and frightening them,” said Dr. Marvin J. Tenenbaum, the director of medicine at St. Francis Hospital on Long Island. [...]

[...] Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, said, “We have to be careful that we’re not alarmists.”

As I said, when it comes to coverage of the global financial markets, that ship has already sailed.

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December 15, 2008

Making It Official Today [10:29 am]

Remember, it’s only this afternoon (pdf) that Barack Obama will officially be president-elect, once the Electoral College votes are cast and tabulated today in state capitals throughout the country.

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October 15, 2008

OT: Do You Feel Safer? [8:10 am]

I know that I don’t. And the arguments about Kissinger and Vietnam-era war crimes are going to seem like nothing compared to the storm that this is going to raise. Although I’m sure that there will be those who say that McCain will be glad that tonight’s debate is on domestic issues, the simple fact is that the Administration got enough support from enough folks in Congress that it’s going to be hard for either candidate to get out from under this revelation.

Surprising that (a) Tenet was smart enough to ask for written confirmation and (b) the Administration was arrogant enough to give it to him: CIA Tactics Endorsed In Secret Memos (pdf)

The Bush administration issued a pair of secret memos to the CIA in 2003 and 2004 that explicitly endorsed the agency’s use of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding against al-Qaeda suspects — documents prompted by worries among intelligence officials about a possible backlash if details of the program became public.

The classified memos, which have not been previously disclosed, were requested by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet more than a year after the start of the secret interrogations, according to four administration and intelligence officials familiar with the documents. Although Justice Department lawyers, beginning in 2002, had signed off on the agency’s interrogation methods, senior CIA officials were troubled that White House policymakers had never endorsed the program in writing.

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October 3, 2008

It’s Friday: And I Had To Get Up Early [6:47 am]

And one of the joys of that is that, on occasion, the morning news gets a little scrambled. Today, Kim Carrigan, from our local Fox affiliate, reported that the Nobel prize in chemistry had been awarded to someone who had discovered that Coca-Cola killed sperm. Of course, it was really an Ig Nobel, but they had a clip and everything. Sadly, by the time I got to the office to try to capture their error, I couldn’t find any of it on their website - so here’s the Boston Globe article instead: Ig Nobel prizes: Awards showcase humorous side of research (pdf)

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September 15, 2008

OT: Technologies and Evidence [8:03 am]

A bizarre one: India’s Novel Use of Brain Scans in Courts Is Debated

Now, well before any consensus on the technology’s readiness, India has become the first country to convict someone of a crime relying on evidence from this controversial machine: a brain scanner that produces images of the human mind in action and is said to reveal signs that a suspect remembers details of the crime in question.

For years, scientists have peered into the brain and sought to identify deception. They have shot infrared beams through liars’ heads, placed them in giant magnetic resonance imaging machines and used scanners to track their eyeballs. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States has plowed money into brain-based lie detection in the hope of producing more fruitful counterterrorism investigations.

The technologies, generally regarded as promising but unproved, have yet to be widely accepted as evidence — except in India, where in recent years judges have begun to admit brain scans. [...]

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September 11, 2008

OT: We’re Done [7:09 am]

That’s it. The campaign is over. We’re just waiting to get the vote count now.

No more discussion of issues. No more consideration of what America can and should be.

Nope. It’s all personalities now. Slurs. Slams. Making mountains out of molehills.

It *is* like an election for class president in the 5th grade. The teachers kept telling us “You should vote on the basis of the candidates’ issues and proposals,” but everyone knew that the whole thing was a popularity contest.

Of course, in the 5th grade, the teachers were there to ensure that the discussion *was* about the issues. Any effort to make the election about personalities was squashed.

Of course, that didn’t matter in the end. It was still a personality contest. But we at least got a lesson about what adults did when they held their elections, for positions that really mattered.

Real responsibilities: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Like that. Important work, for serious people.

How naive.

I miss the 5th grade.

Links to pdfs: Campaign shocks! The Outrage Machine is on a roll; McCain Camp Hits Obama On More Than One Front; Civility is casualty as campaigns spar; Anti-Obama ‘The One’ ad goes funny, not negative, McCain says


Roger Cohen is even more heartick about this than I. His op-ed today (to which I linked above) is a stunner: In The Seventh Year:

And, lo, a strange thing did come to pass. For as surely as the seasons do alternate, so the ruler and party that have brought woe to a nation must give way to others who can lead their people to plenty. How can the weary, flogged ass bear honey and balm and almonds and myrrh?

Yet many Americans believed the exhausted beast could still provide bounty. They did hold that a people called the French was to blame. They did accuse a creation called the United Nations. They did curse the ungodly sophisticates of Gotham and Hollywood and sinful Chicago; and, lo, they proclaimed God was on their side, and carried a gun, and Darwin was bunk, and truth resided in Alaska.

For Bush ruled over the whole nation and so sure was he of his righteousness that he did foster division until it raged like a plague. Each tribe sent pestilence on the other.

And in the seventh year after the fall, the dust and debris of the towers cleared. And it became plain at last what had been wrought — but not how the damage would be undone.

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August 12, 2008

OT: Magic, Perception and Reality [7:39 am]

Scientists and Magicians Describe How Tricks Exploit Glitches in Perception

In a paper published last week in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, a team of brain scientists and prominent magicians described how magic tricks, both simple and spectacular, take advantage of glitches in how the brain constructs a model of the outside world from moment to moment, or what we think of as objective reality.

For the magicians, including The Great Tomsoni (John Thompson), Mac King, James Randi, and Teller of Penn and Teller, the collaboration provided scientific validation, as well as a few new ideas.

For the scientists, Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, it raised hope that magic could accelerate research into perception. “Here’s this art form going back perhaps to ancient Egypt, and basically the neuroscience community had been unaware” of its direct application to the study of perception, Dr. Martinez-Conde said.

Attention and awareness in stage magic: turning tricks into research; Macknick, King, Randi, Robbins, Teller, Thompson and Martinez-Conde; Nature Reviews: Neuroscience; 30 July 2008; doi:10.1038/nrn2473

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August 6, 2008

OT: Decide For Yourself [3:26 pm]

The documents in the US Government’s case against Bruce Ivins as the anthrax attacker: USDOJ: Amerithrax Court Documents

See also Documents Detail Evidence Against Anthrax Scientist

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