Digest 8

It’s totally been too long since I posted one of these digests of what I’m reading online. So think of these selections as “recent-ish news stuffs you might have missed.” Offline: I’m reading Spook Country by William Gibson in preparation for his new, related-but-standalone novel Zero History, and I’m listening to the first cello concerto by Shostakovich as well as, ah, the song “#1 Crush” by Garbage. Now, let’s have at it:

  • Der Spiegel has a leaked German military study that says Earth’s supply of oil is already in permanent decline (has already passed the “peak oil” point); global security will probably be impacted sometime in 2025-2040, the leak says, as market economies worldwide collapse. Have a nice day!

  • Salon.com has two ex-CIA confirming Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. Of course, Bush knew Saddam had oil!

    On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers. Bush dismissed as worthless this information from the Iraqi foreign minister, a member of Saddam’s inner circle, although it turned out to be accurate in every detail. […]

    “The president had no interest in the intelligence,” said the CIA officer. The other officer said, “Bush didn’t give a [expletive] about the intelligence. He had his mind made up.”

    The NYT is pleased with Obama’s Oval Office speech declaring an end to the war, but wishes he’d give more speeches in general.

  • If you’d like to worry about running out of things lighter than oil, apparently we’re facing peak helium, too. From Boing Boing.

  • Since apparently the Defense Department has never heard of the Streisand Effect, they haz a plan, according to the NYT: “buy and destroy all 10,000 copies of the first printing of an Afghan war memoir [alleged to contain] intelligence secrets […]”

    veterans of the publishing industry and intelligence agencies could not recall another case in which an agency sought to dispose of a book that had already been printed.

    Army reviewers suggested various changes and redactions and signed off on the edited book in January […] But when the Defense Intelligence Agency saw the manuscript in July [it set] off a scramble by Pentagon officials to stop the book’s distribution.

    Such a plan, the Streisand Effect says, will backfire because the publicity will just cause more people to purchase the book. Is the plan some sort of reverse psychology to get people to buy Operation Dark Heart, or are the planners just that stupid?

  • Is this all pretty upsetting? Well, have some chocolate (Sociological Images) — for moments when your aspirations to perfection fall short, an advertiser says; because, like, they couldn’t just say that it’s okay to be imperfect, that perfection is, after all, impossible. They gotta sell the stuff, you know. And you gotta buy it, too. Here’s more worthwhile hating on advertising, from the Psychology Today blog Ulterior Motives.

  • Ok, everyone, I am trying to get something positive in here. I know! A cat!

    Old Enough to Drink


    The cat snuck onto a Dublin DART, was re-united with its human via Twitter, and received a genuine rail pass for being awesome. Thus spoke RTÉ news.

  • People the length and breadth of the land have talked about Obama’s privately-funded redecoration of the Oval Office, but USA Today (also know as USA? OKAY!) gives the five quotes Obama picked for the rug:

    1. “The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt

    2. “The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, But it Bends Towards Justice,” Martin Luther King Jr.

    3. “Government of the People, By the People, For the People,” President Abraham Lincoln

    4. “No Problem of Human Destiny is Beyond Human Beings,” President John F. Kennedy

    5. “The Welfare of Each of Us is Dependent Fundamentally Upon the Welfare of All of Us,” President Theodore Roosevelt

    Well, that’s some hope (sincerely!).

  • The NYT reports that Republican operatives have recruited homeless people in Arizona to run as Green Party candidates (in a Republican attempt to split leftist votes, of course).

  • Lifehacker with instructions for turning a thumbdrive into a portable computer privacy toolkit.

  • Slate.com with a 10-chart slideshow of income inequality in the States, with accompanying article:

    Incomes started to become more equal in the 1930s and then became dramatically more equal in the 1940s. Income distribution remained roughly stable through the postwar economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s. […] The deep nostalgia for that period felt by the World War II generation—the era of Life magazine and the bowling league—reflects something more than mere sentimentality. Assuming you were white, not of draft age, and Christian, there probably was no better time to belong to America’s middle class.

    [This] ended in the 1970s [hi, Nixon!]. […]

    Why don’t Americans pay more attention to growing income disparity? One reason may be our enduring belief in social mobility. Economic inequality is less troubling if you live in a country where any child, no matter how humble his or her origins, can grow up to be president. […] But when it comes to real as opposed to imagined social mobility, surveys find less in the United States than in much of (what we consider) the class-bound Old World. France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Spain—not to mention some newer nations like Canada and Australia—are all places where your chances of rising from the bottom are better than they are in the land of Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick.

  • In 1964 Arthur C Clarke explains why communication will change cities and the future.

    Oh, and suggestions for how to center these object embeds within the li bullet point, anyone? Because I’m that OCD.

  • Russia’s finance minister has a very unusual scheme, mentioned in UK’s Daily Mail. Talking of what we in the States call “sin taxes,” he says:

    “If you smoke a pack of cigarettes, that means you are giving more to help solve social problems […] People should understand [that] those who drink, those who smoke are doing more to help the state”

  • As I return to substitute-teaching, this Lifehacker how-to for remembering names already is coming in handy. If you’re just meeting a Sasha and exchanging names, Philip Guo advises:

    [Typically] you totally forget Sasha’s name because your mind is too pre-occupied thinking about the next thing you’re going to say to carry the conversation forward, or too focused on listening to Sasha talk […] As soon as you hear her name, start repeating SASHA in your head loudly a few times [even as you give her your name] — SASHA, SASHA, SASHA. If you want to practice saying it out loud a few times, ask her about her name. “Sasha, that’s spelled S-A-S-H-A?” […] The purpose of these questions is to simply get you and Sasha to repeat her name a few times to help you to remember.

  • Talking Points Memo mentions a Newsweek poll showing most Republicans (52%) believe that Obama “definitely” or “probably” wants to impose Islamic law (Sharia).

  • Lefties paying attention to politics are seriously worried about the Democratic base’s “enthusiasm gap” which, at this point, has contributed strongly to the Republicans’ record-breakingly huge 10-point lead (at the moment) in the midterm election generic Congressional ballot, and has increased fears of a November of Doom: if Republicans win the House, Obama in many ways can’t get much good lawmaking accomplished. In The Nation, Thomas Geoghegan advances some obviously good proposals and some good but risky (to my mind) proposals to excite the left and up voter turnout. Here are some of the obviously good ones:

    1. Keep it simple. […] Every initiative should be capable of being put down [summarized?] in a single sentence or two.

    2. Make it universal. People on the left have all sorts of ideas for programs that turn out to be available only to a select few. By contrast take FDR’s big ideas, like Social Security. […] Likewise, Medicare: we’ll all get there.

    3. Make it add up to a plan. […] FDR did not end the Depression, either. But people were patient because they knew he had a plan. He was rebuilding the economy from the bottom up, and it paid off, not in the 1930s but in the unionized, high-benefits postwar decades after he died […] People will be patient with us and keep us in power if they think we have a plan.

    Regardless of his wise advice, Geoghegan’s article is quite a bit harsh, and in the regard I sent a letter to the editor about some of my quibbles (they’re not connected with the excerpt above), so I’ll let you know if anything happens with that. And concerning explanations for Democrats’ dismal poll numbers, Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo snarks:

    everybody picks the theory that validates their assumptions.

    Dems and Obama’s poll numbers are so bad because …

    Republicans: Terrible policies and he’s probably a Muslim.

    Right Democrats: No CEOs in the administration. And why does he keep getting into the black thing?

    Down-the-Line Obamaites: Economy’s bad. Nothing he could do. Give it a rest.

    Left Democrats: He wasn’t liberal or tough enough and me and my eight friends are deeply disillusioned.

    Politico: Chronic failure to win the morning.

  • Too much politics! Well, William Gibson’s trying to get back into blogging, and we fans wish him all the luck. You should read this great, 2-page interview Gibson did with Vice Magazine for more on his new novel and his ideas.

  • NY Daily News reports on CuteCircuit’s new dress, the M-Dress (Mobile Phone Dress): you insert your SIM card into the dress label, and voila, one of your sleeve’s palms is now also a cell phone. Pop singer Katy Perry wore it some event(s) or other.

    You Know You Want One. Wifely @cckaty82?

  • Brain Mysteries adapts a meatspace-meets-cyberspace press release by the FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology, saying:

    Researchers at the University of Barcelona have created a system which measures human physiological parameters, such as respiration or heart rate, and introduces them into computer designed characters in real time. […]

    The system […] uses sensors and wireless devices to measure three physiological parameters […]. Immediately, the data is processed with a software programme that is used to control the behaviour of a virtual character who is sitting in a waiting room.

    “We maintain that the linking of subjective corporal states to a virtual reality can improve the sensation of realism that a person has of this reality and, eventually, create a stronger link between humans and this virtual reality”, [researcher] Groenegress concludes.

  • This is heartbreaking. The WSJ reports that many Japanese men, who already play the game Love Plus+ in which they maintain relationships with virtual girlfriends, can do well enough in the game (with tasks such as virtual exercise for attractiveness) to win a trip to the real-life resort town of Atami, where they pretend to be on a date with their handheld virtual girlfriend.

    In Atami, the Love Plus+ fans—mostly men in their twenties and thirties—stand out. Unlike the deeply tanned beach crowd wearing very little, they are often pasty and overdressed for the heat in heavy jeans and button-down shirts. […]

    “There isn’t a lot of romance in my life and this helps me cope with some of the loneliness,” said Mr. Fukazawa

  • Also in Japan and also in the WSJ — mostly paywall’ed (info can hurt you!) — a report on automated billboard advertisements that see you with cameras and then modify themselves to target you, the individual consumer, more specifically by auto-analyzing your demographic categories.

  • Cynthia Shearer with a post about Reo Fortune’s The Mind in Sleep, a book I’ll most certainly check out — if, given the cost, only at the library.

  • From the description of this YouTube video — I noticed the video on Boing Boing — “Alex Halderman and Ari Feldman replaced […] voting software with Pac-Man. They did this in three afternoons, without breaking any tamper-evident seals. It would be easy to modify the software to steal votes, but that’s been done before, and Pac-Man is more fun.” You can learn more about their hack here. Give the video a watch:

    You’re still going to vote!

  • Boing Boing with a post roughly about how drones are now patrolling the entire US-Mexico border.

  • Scientist J. Craig Venter, who famously sequenced the human genome and also created a cell with a synthetic genome, is now going after, well, just read it, from the NYT:

    At Synthetic Genomics, [Dr. Venter] wants to create living creatures — bacteria, algae or even plants — that are designed from the DNA up to carry out industrial tasks and displace the fuels and chemicals that are now made from fossil fuels.

    “Designing and building synthetic cells will be the basis of a new industrial revolution,” Dr. Venter says. “The goal is to replace the entire petrochemical industry.”

    His star power has attracted $110 million in investment so far, in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in research financing […] “If you think of an iconic, Steve Jobs character in the life sciences field, he comes to mind,” says Steve Jurvetson […]

    Synthetic Genomics is also exploring the use of algae to produce food oils and, possibly, other edible products. […]

    The Vatican […] cautiously praised [Venter’s synthetic biology] work as a potential way of treating diseases, saying it did not regard the synthesis of DNA as the creation of life.

  • Brain Mysteries, adapting a news release by the Elsevier, notes that in the cases studied, oxytocin — sometimes perhaps-too-broadly called the “trust” and the “bonding” hormone — affects new fathers just as much as new mothers. No more teasing Wifely @cckaty82 about oxytocin. (NO! We are not pregnant.)

I have many more links, but I’ll have to carry them over to my next digest, which I’ll try to make happen sooner rather than later.

I’d really appreciate hearing in the comments if people are finding these digests useful. They help me keep track of interesting info stuffs; but, at the same time, they’re a lot of work.


1 comment so far ↓

#1 onedeepblue on 09.23.10 at 2:13 am

definitely useful. I just shared half the links with friends lol

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