From the This Isn’t Really News department


We shouldn’t be surprised at the news Clyde Haberman brings:

In this season given to tidings of comfort and joy, word has come that we New Yorkers are the sad sacks of the United States. This is something of a surprise. Sure, we complain a lot. Grumbling could qualify as the official state sport. But are we really the unhappiest of them all?

It seems so, judging from a study by two economics professors, newly published in Science magazine. The academics — Andrew J. Oswald, of the University of Warwick in Britain, and Stephen Wu, of Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. — examined piles of data, tossed them into a research Cuisinart and came up with a guide to American happiness, ranked by state. On the smiley scale, New York landed on the bottom.

Dead last?

“I’m sorry about that,” Professor Oswald said by phone from Warwick.

It’s rather dismal. If there were a National Happy League, we’d be the New Jersey Nets. We’re No. 51 out of 51. The District of Columbia was included in the list as if it were a state. It made it all the way to No. 37 despite the handicap of having Congress in its midst.

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Two words I didn’t need to hear today: ‘mating plug’


The upside of prudery:

Scientists believe it may be possible to combat malaria by interfering with the sex lives of the mosquitoes which spread the disease.

They have shown that the insects can only mate successfully if the male is able to seal his sperm inside the female using a “mating plug”.

Without the plug, fertilisation cannot occur, and the animals cannot reproduce.

There is a lot in the BBC article about plugs. I haven’t yet decided if that is disquieting. Continue reading

Rediscovery: Plants are alive


I’m not going to complain about Natalie Angier‘s opinion piece in today’s New York Times:

In his new book, “Eating Animals,” the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer describes his gradual transformation from omnivorous, oblivious slacker who “waffled among any number of diets” to “committed vegetarian.” Last month, Gary Steiner, a philosopher at Bucknell University, argued on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times that people should strive to be “strict ethical vegans” like himself, avoiding all products derived from animals, including wool and silk. Killing animals for human food and finery is nothing less than “outright murder,” he said, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “eternal Treblinka.”

But before we cede the entire moral penthouse to “committed vegetarians” and “strong ethical vegans,” we might consider that plants no more aspire to being stir-fried in a wok than a hog aspires to being peppercorn-studded in my Christmas clay pot. This is not meant as a trite argument or a chuckled aside. Plants are lively and seek to keep it that way. The more that scientists learn about the complexity of plants — their keen sensitivity to the environment, the speed with which they react to changes in the environment, and the extraordinary number of tricks that plants will rally to fight off attackers and solicit help from afar — the more impressed researchers become, and the less easily we can dismiss plants as so much fiberfill backdrop, passive sunlight collectors on which deer, antelope and vegans can conveniently graze. It’s time for a green revolution, a reseeding of our stubborn animal minds.

When plant biologists speak of their subjects, they use active verbs and vivid images. Plants “forage” for resources like light and soil nutrients and “anticipate” rough spots and opportunities. By analyzing the ratio of red light and far red light falling on their leaves, for example, they can sense the presence of other chlorophyllated competitors nearby and try to grow the other way. Their roots ride the underground “rhizosphere” and engage in cross-cultural and microbial trade.

“Plants are not static or silly,” said Monika Hilker of the Institute of Biology at the Free University of Berlin. “They respond to tactile cues, they recognize different wavelengths of light, they listen to chemical signals, they can even talk” through chemical signals. Touch, sight, hearing, speech. “These are sensory modalities and abilities we normally think of as only being in animals,” Dr. Hilker said.

Indeed, I’m glad to see it. But I wanted to point out that this isn’t exactly news.

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Dangerous obscurity


Let us pause, for a moment, to consider the wisdom we might glean from Twitter. Or, as Mark Sample puts it:

The new 7th edition of the MLA Handbook *still* does not know how to cite videogames.

No, really, that’s actually someone’s real tweet. But here’s the thing: It’s not crazy. One of my favorite dialogues on freedom takes place between a nano-enhanced supercop and a black Australian bartender named Isaac at a Triad-operated nightclub in Hong Kong amid a nanotechnological plague, in the video game Deux Ex.

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The Canon – Brown’s Life Against Death


Excerpt: Life Against Death, by Norman O. Brown

… it is a Freudian theorem that each individual neurosis is not static but dynamic. It is a historical process with its own internal logic. Because of the basically unsatisfactory nature of the neurotic compromise, tension between the repressed and repressing factors persists and produces a constant series of new symptom-formations. And the series of symptom-formations is not a shapeless series of mere changes; it exhibits a regressive pattern, which Freud calls the slow return of the repressed, “It is a law of neurotic diseases that these obsessive acts serve the impulse more and more and come nearer and nearer the original and forbidden act.” The doctrine of the universal neurosis of mankind, if we take it seriously, therefore compels us to entertain the hypothesis that the pattern of history exhibits a dialectic not hitherto recognized by historians, the dialectic of neurosis.

____________________

Brown, Norman O. Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1959.

Oh, big surprise


But … Lithuania? That was always my first question about this story. And I was probably late to it. It seems to me I picked it up only a couple weeks ago.

The CIA used at least two secret detention centres in Lithuania after the 11 September 2001 terror attacks on the US, a Lithuanian inquiry has found.

The report by a Lithuanian parliamentary committee says that in 2005 and 2006 CIA chartered planes were allowed to land in Lithuania.

It says that no Lithuanian officials were allowed near the aircraft, nor were they told who was on board ….

…. Poland and Romania hosted similar CIA “black sites”, media reports say.
In Lithuania, at least eight terror suspects were held at one centre on the outskirts of the capital Vilnius, the investigation found.

It was formerly a riding school and the suspects were reportedly held there between 2004 and 2005.

In August this year, US media reports claimed that Lithuania, Poland and Romania all hosted secret CIA interrogation centres.

But the parliamentary report appears to absolve Lithuania’s political leaders of responsibility for any human rights violations that may have been committed by the CIA, the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes reports from Moscow.

It says even the president was unaware of exactly what the US intelligence service was doing.

The only thing that’s really surprising about this is that it was Lithuania. Not that any ancient legend says they are the paladins to lead us to new enlightenment, or anything like that. But I don’t know. Is it unfair to mutter something about the Soviet experience? You know, like, you’d think Lithuania, not even twenty years out of Soviet reach ….

Okay, that’s probably not fair. There are also rumors of similar sites in Poland and Romania, so maybe they’re just calling on some of Europe’s surviving old-school bonebreakers.

Hired goons. Why not? There will always be a market for cruelty.

Bad news on drugs


Phillip Caputo offers us a thing or two about Mexico and the War On Drugs:

Photo by Julian Cardona.TO CLARIFY THE CRIME. Of the many things Mexico lacks these days, clarity is near the top of the list. It is dangerous to know the truth. Finding it is frustrating. Statements by U.S. and Mexican government officials, repeated by a news media that prefers simple story lines, have fostered the impression in the United States that the conflict in Mexico is between Calderón’s white hats and the crime syndicates’ black hats. The reality is far more complicated, as suggested by this statistic: out of those 14,000 dead, fewer than 100 have been soldiers. Presumably, army casualties would be far higher if the war were as straightforward as it’s often made out to be.

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