The Post-Postmodernist

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Art of War, or How Europe Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Submission

I started off with honest intention of only quoting six paragraphs of Victor Davis Hanson's incisive piece on the British hostage crisis, but just could not stop myself, despite my full knowledge of the fair-use doctrine. It all needs to be said, and I can say it no more eloquently or succinctly than the seemingly omniscient VDH himself.

I can only offer this:

Therefore One hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the most skillful. Seizing the enemy without fighting is the most skillful.

That said, here are the words of wisdom from Hanson. The first six paragraphs are crucial; the remaining ten are heart-breaking.

There are reasons along more existential lines for why Iran acts so boldly. After the end of the Cold War, most Western nations — i.e., Europe and Canada — cut their military forces to such an extent that they were essentially disarmed. The new faith was that, after a horrific twentieth century, Europeans and the West in general had finally evolved beyond the need for war.

With the demise of fascism, Nazism, and Soviet Communism, and in the new luxury of peace, the West found itself a collective desire to save money that could be better spent on entitlements, to create some distance from the United States, and to enhance international talking clubs in which mellifluent Europeans might outpoint less sophisticated others. And so three post-Cold War myths arose justify these.

First, that the past carnage had been due to misunderstanding rather than the failure of military preparedness to deter evil.

Second, that the foundations of the new house of European straw would be “soft” power. Economic leverage and political hectoring would deter mixed-up or misunderstood nations or groups from using violence. Multilateral institutions — the World Court or the United Nations — might soon make aircraft carriers and tanks superfluous.

All this was predicated on dealing with logical nations — not those countries so wretched as to have nothing left to lose, or so spiteful as to be willing to lose much in order to hurt others a little, or so crazy as to welcome the “end of days.” This has proved an unwarranted assumption. And with the Middle East flush with petrodollars, non-European militaries have bought better and more plentiful weaponry than that which is possessed by the very Western nations that invented and produced those weapons.

Third, that in the 21st century there would be no serious enemies on the world stage. Any violence that would break out would probably be due instead to either American or Israeli imperial, preemptive aggression — and both nations could be ostracized or humiliated by European shunning and moral censure. The more Europeans could appear to the world as demonizing, even restraining, Washington and Tel Aviv, the more credibility abroad would accrue to their notion of multilateral diplomacy.

But even the European Union could not quite change human nature, and thus could not outlaw the entirely human business of war. There were older laws at play — laws so much more deeply rooted than the latest generation’s faddish notions of conflict resolution. Like Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance, which would work only against the liberal British, and never against a Hitler or a Stalin, so too the Europeans’ moral posturing seemed to affect only the Americans, who singularly valued the respect of such civilized moralists.

Now we are in the seventh year of a new century, and even after the wake-up call on 9/11, Westerners are still relearning each day that the world is a dangerous place. When violence comes to downtown Madrid, the well-meaning Spanish chose to pull out of Iraq — only to uncover more serial terrorist cells intent on killing more Spaniards.

To get their captured journalists freed, Italians paid Islamists bribes — and then found more Italians captured. When Germany, Britain, and France parleyed with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (the “direct talks” that we in the states yearn for) to try to get Iran to cease its plans for nuclear proliferation, he politely ignored the “EU3.” The European Union is upset that Russian agents murder troublemakers inside the EU’s borders, and so registers its displeasure with the Cheshire Vladimir Putin.

The latest Iranian kidnapping of British sailors came after British promises to leave Iraq, and after the British humiliation of 2004, when eight hostages were begged back. Apparently the Iranians have figured either that London would do little if they captured more British subjects or that the navy of Lord Nelson and Admiral Jellico couldn’t stop them if it wanted to.

“London,” of course, is a misnomer, since the Blair government is an accurate reflection of attitudes widely held in both Britain and Europe. These attitudes have already been voiced by the public: this is understandable payback for the arrest of Iranian agents inside Iraq; this is what happens when you ally with the United States; this is what happens when the United States ceases talking with Iran.

The rationalizations are limitless, but essential, since no one in Europe — again, understandably — wishes a confrontation that might require a cessation of lucrative trade with Iran, or an embarrassing military engagement without sufficient assets, or any overt allegiance with the United States. Pundits talk of a military option, but there really is none, since neither Britain nor Europe at large possesses a military.

What does the future hold if Europe does not rearm and make it clear that attacks on Europeans and threats to the current globalized order have repercussions?

If Europeans recoil from a few Taliban hoodlums or Iranian jihadists, new mega-powers like nuclear India and China will simply ignore European protestations as the ankle-biting of tired moralists. Indeed, they do so already.

Why put European ships or planes outside of European territorial waters when that will only guarantee a crisis in which Europeans are kidnapped and held as hostages or used as bargaining chips to force political concessions?

Europe is just one major terrorist operation away from a disgrace that will not merely discredit the EU, but will do so to such a degree as to endanger its citizenry and interests worldwide and their very safety at home. Islamists must assume that an attack on a European icon — Big Ben, the Vatican, or the Eiffel Tower — could be pulled off with relative impunity and ipso facto shatter European confidence and influence. Each day that the Iranians renege on their promises to release the hostages, and then proceed to parade their captives, earning another “unacceptable” from embarrassed British officials, a little bit more of the prestige of the United Kingdom is chipped away.

In the future, smaller nations in dangerous neighborhoods must accept that in their crises ahead, their only salvation, even after the acrimonious Democratic furor over Iraq, is help from the United States.

America alone can guarantee the safety of the noble Kurds, should Turkey or Iran choose one day to invade. America alone will be willing or able to supply Israel with necessary help and weapons to ensure its survival.

Other small nations — a Greece, for example — with long records of vehement anti-Americanism should take note that the choice facing them in their rough neighborhoods is essentially solidarity with the United States or the embrace of Jimmy Carter diplomacy or Stanley Baldwin appeasement.

Quite simply, there is now no NATO, no EU, no U.N. that can or will do anything in anyone’s hour of need.

Life Imitates Idiocracy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia may have won the National Invitation Tournament, but the Mountaineers' commemorative T-shirts are less than championship material.

They contain a misspelling.

The "West Virginia" printed on the shirts players wore after winning the NIT title with a 78-73 victory over Clemson on Thursday night is missing the last "i" in "Virginia."

Friday, March 30, 2007

I Have Seen the Future, and His Name is Jackie Broyles

Red State Update done figured out who'd be a dadgum good President for this here country.

Plus, the man can cook good!

Welcome Aboard. My Name is Vinnie Carborino and I'll Be Your Captain Today

Hollywood hypocrisy is in its fully upright and locked position as John Travolta stands on his personal runway and lectures the world about the dangers of releasing carbons into the atmosphere.

If you haven't watched, "The Great Global Warming Swindle," you should.

Stray thoughts on Global Warming, which is a topic so annoying in its sanctimony that I can barely stay in the room with myself as I make them.

1. There is no such thing as the Earth's "average temperature."

2. Warm is better than cold if "supporting life" is your criteria, cf. The Cambrian Era. Food is easier to grow, for example, in warm weather.

2a. The notion of aerosolising carbon could rightly be called the most ingenius fertilization program ever devised, as carbon is what's known to microscopic organisms at the very bottom of the food chain as, "food."

3. If you happen to hate mankind, and especially industrialization, Climate Change is just the thing to fill up the God-vacuum in your brain.

4. If you believe in the redistribution of wealth from rich to poor, Climate Change is a whiz-bang new weapon of fear for you to use to justify neat new taxes no one had thought of before.

5. If you're a scientist who doesn't toe the grant-getting party line on this issue, good luck finding a job, you heretical schmuck.

6. The value of my Prius went up by $4,000 bucks this week because they've stopped issuing the HOV carpool-lane stickers.

UPDATE: I'll give these two good old boys the final word on Global Warming.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Utopia, By Any Means Necessary

Friends of mine will recognize a lot of my favorite lines of reasoning in this great talk by Evan Sayet.

Long, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Creativity and Bipolar Disorder

An analysis by Nicole Megatulski:

History has always held a place for the "mad genius", the kind who, in a bout of euphoric fervor, rattles off revolutionary ideas, incomprehensible to the general population, yet invaluable to the population's evolution into a better adapted species over time. Is this link between creativity and mental illness one of coincidence, or are the two actually related? If related, does heightened creative behavior alter the brain's neurochemistry such that one becomes more prone to a mental illness like bipolar disorder? Does bipolar disorder cause alterations in neurochemistry in the brain that increase creative behavior through elevated capacity for thought and expression? Is this link the result of some third factor which causes both of the two effects?

Centuries of literature and innumerable studies have supported strong cases relating creativity--particularly in the arts, music and literature--to bipolar disorder. Both creativity and bipolar disorder can be attributed to a genetic predisposition and environmental influences. Biographical studies, diagnostic and psychological studies and family studies provide different aspects for examining this relationship.

A 1949 study of 113 German artists, writers, architects, and composers was one of the first to undertake an extensive, in-depth investigation of both artists and their relatives. Although two-thirds of the 113 artists and writers were "psychically normal," there were more suicides and "insane and neurotic" individuals in the artistic group than could be expected in the general population, with the highest rates of psychiatric abnormality found in poets (50%) and musicians (38%). (1) Many other similar tests revealed this disproportionate occurrence of mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, in artistic and creative people, including a recent study of individuals over a thirty-year period (1960 to 1990). Overall, when comparing individuals in the creative arts with those in other professions (such as businessmen, scientists, and public officials), the artistic group showed two to three times the rate of psychosis, suicide attempts, mood disorders, and substance abuse. (1)

Another recent study was the first to undertake scientific diagnostic inquiries into the relationship between creativity and psychopathology in living writers. Eighty percent of the study sample met formal diagnostic criteria for a major mood disorder versus thirty percent of the control sample. The statistical difference between these two rates is highly significant, where p<.001. This means that the odds of this difference occurring by chance alone are less than one in a thousand. Of particular interest, almost one-half the creative writers met the diagnostic criteria for full-blown manic-depressive illness. (1) This is not to say that the majority of artists are bipolar but rather that there is a considerably higher incidence in bipolar disorder among artists than among the general population.

Collectively, these studies and numerous others have clinically supported the existence of a link between bipolar disorder and creativity. Now the question applies: Is bipolar disorder the result of above-average creativity or is above-average creativity the result of bipolar disorder or are the two a result of some third factor which causes the two effects? From the sources I have encountered, I believe a stronger case is made for the latter, although it is impossible to scientifically or psychologically answer that question at this time.

Predisposition to bipolar disorder is genetically inherited and current studies suggest the same for predisposition to creativity but is there a common genetic factor, which determines the expression of both traits? If there were, neither creativity nor bipolar disorder would implicitly cause the other. A recent study hypothesized that a genetic vulnerability to manic-depressive illness would be accompanied by a predisposition to creativity, which, according to the investigators, might be more prominent among close relatives of manic-depressive patients than among the patients themselves. Significantly higher combined scores from a creativity assessment test were observed among the manic-depressive patients and their normal first-degree relatives than among the control subjects, suggesting a possible genetic link between the two characteristics, as both are prevalent in families with a history of bipolar disorder and not as evident in control families. (1) A wide variety of artistic and creative talents, ranging from music to art to mathematics, were exhibited among the family members of the bipolar patients as well. The varied manifestations of creativity within the same family suggest that whatever is transmitted within families is a general factor that predisposes them to a creative mentality, rather than a specific giftedness in a single area. The coexistence of creativity accompanied by manic depression, whether expressed in bipolar patients or not expressed in their predisposed family members, suggests that a third factor, yet unidentified, may be orchestrating the expression of the two.

Assuming both creativity and bipolar disorder, or at least predisposition to the illness, are expressed simultaneously, what accounts for heightened creativity in people upon onset of bipolar disorder? A deficit in normal information-processing could be manifested in a severe behavioral disorder, but it could also favor creative associations between information units or a propensity toward innovation and originality. (2) The altered neurological structure and functioning in the frontal lobe, prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, hypothalamus and cerebellum associated with bipolar disorder may also allow for more creative thought.

People with bipolar mood disorders tend to be more emotionally reactive, which gives them greater sensitivity and acuteness. This, coupled with a lack of inhibition due to compromised frontal lobe processes, permits them unrestrained and unconventional forms of expressions, less limited by accepted norms and customs. They are more open to experimentation and risk-taking behavior, and, as a consequence, more assertive and resourceful than the mean. (2) (3) Characteristics of the bipolar disorder, such as lowered inhibition, allow for freer expression of previously contained ideas and the constant flux between manic and depressive states also gives an unusual kaleidoscopic perspective of the world. All of these factors can account for increased creativity once the illness erupts. (5)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Universe is a String-Net Liquid.

Who knew, The Church of the Flying Spagetti Monster may have gotten their cosmology exactly right.

If you've ever wondered, and who hasn't, how superluminal connections between electrons is possible --- change the spin of one and its paired electron changes at the same time, no matter how much distance between the two -- two scientists may have found the reason: the electrons are connected by a multidimensional string, and our universe sort of resembles a big bowl of angel-hair pasta, consisting of strings so small that the pasta stops being pasta and instead resembles a liquid state. Got it?

Wen speculated that FQHE systems represented a state of matter in which entanglement was an intrinsic property, with particles tied to each other in a complicated manner across the entire material.

This led Wen and Levin to the idea that there may be a different way of thinking about matter. What if electrons were not really elementary, but were formed at the ends of long "strings" of other, fundamental particles? They formulated a model in which such strings are free to move "like noodles in a soup" and weave together into huge "string-nets".

“What if electrons were not elementary, but were formed at the ends of long strings of other, fundamental particles?”
Light and matter unified

The pair ran simulations to see if their string-nets could give rise to conventional particles and fractionally charged quasi-particles. They did. They also found something even more surprising. As the net of strings vibrated, it produced a wave that behaved according to a very familiar set of laws - Maxwell's equations, which describe the behaviour of light. "A hundred and fifty years after Maxwell wrote them down, here they emerged by accident," says Wen.

That wasn't all. They found that their model naturally gave rise to other elementary particles, such as quarks, which make up protons and neutrons, and the particles responsible for some of the fundamental forces, such as gluons and the W and Z bosons.

From this, the researchers made another leap. Could the entire universe be modelled in a similar way? "Suddenly we realised, maybe the vacuum of our whole universe is a string-net liquid," says Wen. "It would provide a unified explanation of how both light and matter arise." So in their theory elementary particles are not the fundamental building blocks of matter. Instead, they emerge from the deeper structure of the non-empty vacuum of space-time.

"Wen and Levin's theory is really beautiful stuff," says Michael Freedman, 1986 winner of the Fields medal, the highest prize in mathematics, and a quantum computing specialist at Microsoft Station Q at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "I admire their approach, which is to be suspicious of anything - electrons, photons, Maxwell's equations - that everyone else accepts as fundamental."

Other theories that try to explain the same phenomena abound, of course; Wen and Levin realise that the burden of proof is on them. It may not be far off. Their model predicts specific arrangements of atoms in the new state of matter, which they dub the "string-net liquid", and Young Lee's group at MIT might have found it.

Lee was aware of Wen's work and decided to look for such materials. Trawling through geology journals, his team spotted a candidate - a dark green crystal that geologists stumbled across in the mountains of Chile in 1972. "The geologists named it after a mineralogist they really admired, Herbert Smith, labelled it and put it to one side," says Lee. "They didn't realise the potential herbertsmithite would have for physicists years later."

Herbertsmithite (pictured) is unusual because its electrons are arranged in a triangular lattice. Normally, electrons prefer to line up so that their spins are in the opposite direction to that of their immediate neighbours, but in a triangle this is impossible - there will always be neighbouring electrons spinning in the same direction. Wen and his colleagues propose that such a system would be a string-net liquid.

Although herbertsmithite exists in nature, the mineral contains impurities that disrupt any string-net signatures, says Lee. So Lee's team made a pure sample in the lab. "It was painstaking," says Lee. "It took us a full year to prepare it and another year to analyse it."

The team measured the degree of magnetisation in the material, in response to an applied magnetic field. If herbertsmithite behaves like ordinary matter, they argue, then below about 26 °C the spins of its electrons should stop fluctuating - a condition called magnetic order. But the team found no such transition, even down to just a fraction above absolute zero.

They measured other properties, too, such as heat conduction. In conventional solids, the relationship between their temperature and their ability to conduct heat changes below a certain temperature, because the structure of the material changes. The team found no sign of such a transition in herbertsmithite, suggesting that, unlike other types of matter, its lowest energy state has no discernible order. "We could have created something in the lab that nobody has seen before," says Lee.

I can now die happily. That superluminal stuff has bugged me for twenty-five years, ever since I read The Dancing Wu-Li Masters.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Fiona is my kind of Criminal

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Visual Map of the Relationship Between Scientific Paradigms

This map was constructed by sorting roughly 800,000 published papers into 776 different scientific paradigms (shown as pale circular nodes) based on how often the papers were cited together by authors of other papers. Links (curved black lines) were made between the paradigms that shared papers, then treated as rubber bands, holding similar paradigms nearer one another when a physical simulation forced every paradigm to repel every other; thus the layout derives directly from the data. Larger paradigms have more papers; node proximity and darker links indicate how many papers are shared between two paradigms. Flowing labels list common words unique to each paradigm, large labels general areas of scientific inquiry

Click here for the full 5.3 meg file, click here. Posters (25" x 24") are availabe free from: Visual Aesthetics.

Wikimedia Public Domain Photograph of the Year

Taken at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, by United States Air Force Senior Airman Joshua Strang -- The Aurora Borealis shines above Bear Lake.

Link to hi-res photograph here.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Satan Claus, the Musical

Bringing Glenn Gould Back to Life

Can't wait to hear this.

Zenph claimed it could take a 50-year-old mono recording and distill from its hiss-laden, squished sound all of the musical information that originally went into it. It wouldn’t “process” the recording to get rid of noise; it wouldn’t pretend to turn mono into stereo; it wouldn’t try to correct things that were sonically “wrong.” Instead the claim was that it would, using its proprietary software, learn from recorded sound precisely how an instrument — a piano, for starters — was played, with what force a key was struck, how far down the sustain pedal was pressed, when each finger moved, how each note was weighted in a complex chord and what sort of timbre was actually produced.

Then it would effectively recreate the instrument. A digital file encoded with this information would be read by Yamaha’s advanced Disklavier Pro — a computerized player piano — and transformed into music. A recorded piano becomes a played piano. This would be sonic teleportation, monochromatic forms reincarnated as three-dimensional sound — not colorization but re-creation.

Zenph also announced it had accomplished this feat of technological legerdemain with one of the most remarkable recordings of the last century: Glenn Gould’s 1955 mono rendition of Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations. Gould, who retreated from performance into the private realm of the recording studio where he could splice and fiddle with sound and phrase, would be posthumously pulled back into the realm of public performance.

Gould believed technology liberated performer and listener. Here this pianist, who died in 1982, would be freed from the ultimate constraint.

And indeed, last September in Toronto, Zenph gave a public “reperformance” of Gould’s “Goldbergs” on a specially prepared Yamaha Disklavier. Zenph’s “Goldbergs” inspired a standing ovation from the audience members, many of whom knew Gould and some of whom had heard him play live. The press reports glowed.

Then one day last week Zenph — which took its name from “senf,” the German word for mustard — brought a press demonstration of its “Goldbergs” to Yamaha’s New York piano studios, playing portions of the work both on the Disklavier and from its recording, due to be released at the end of May on Sony BMG Masterworks.



Micro Wind Turbines

The next twenty years will see some amazing advances in clean energy, is my bet. This one looks to be a winner:

Lucien Gambarota , the main inventor of the technology, says this is its advantage over conventional small wind turbines, which only work about 40 percent of the time because of low wind speed.

"We never stop this machine and they never stop because there is always one meter per second wind - 365 days, 24 hours a day, they keep working," said Gambarota. "They deliver different levels of energy because the wind changes but these turbines they keep moving, they keep spinning."

Gambarota says the small turbines are ideal for crowded cities such as Hong Kong because they can be installed on rooftops and balconies.

Their design is simple: plastic gearwheels, each about 25 centimeters in diameter, are linked to one another and turn, moved by the wind. Groups of gearwheels can be arranged in an array of shapes and sizes, ranging from about two up to thousands of square meters, depending on how much energy is needed and how much space is available. The energy generated by the turbines is stored in a battery, which then powers electrical appliances.

The wind turbine is easy to install and comparatively cheap. At the moment, a set of 20 gearwheels costs about $25. Gambarota says the price will go down once the turbines are being mass-produced, making them a good option for consumers who want to cut down on their energy costs.

"Let's say if you have good conditions, five, six meters [of wind] per second, if you are a family with one kid you need most probably three, four square meters of that then you can most probably cover at least 60, 70 percent of your [energy] needs."

The Genius of Ricky Gervais

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Patton Doctrine

Turning Google into Napster

The Amazon Web Services Blog has a simple way to turn Google into Napster and further destroy the music business:

Google is good for so many things, among which is searching for all sorts of files, including MP3's. Here's a quick primer:

-inurl:(htm|html|php) intitle:"index of" +"last modified" +"parent directory" +description +size +(wma|mp3) "Nirvana"

Just substitute the term "Nirvana" for any band or singer you might be looking for, and your search will lead you to open indexes that contain downloadable music files.

The technique originally appeared in the book, Google Hacks.

Isn't communism fun? Now just... don't be evil.

Friday, March 16, 2007

First 3-Way Tie on Jeopardy

I don't understand why this doesn't happen more often.

If you're ahead, you've proved that you can beat the two other players, so why take the chance that one or both of the next two players you face will be better than you?

That would be the game-theory angle. Plus: Suck it, Trebek.

Interactive Floor

Have a Safe Trip

Click to Trip.

Bar none, this is the coolest thing I've seen on the internet. Stare at the pattern for about 20 seconds, then look away from the screen. What you will see is a very accurate simulation (?) of drug-induced hallucination. Bizarre. The closest anyone's ever gotten to capturing what the real thing (?) looks like was, of course, the bar scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

News Promo from the Swingin' Seventies

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Etch-a-Sketch, MIT style

Friday, March 09, 2007

It Puts the Lotion in the Basket... the song.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Teaspoon Slide Guitar

For Nick, on a tough night.

Decline and Fall of Western Civilization, Part 345,004,234

An Inconvenient Solar System

Global warming reported on Titan.

Global warming reported on Jupiter..

Global warming reported on Pluto.

Global warming reported on Mars, where, gasp, THE ICECAPS ARE MELTING!!!

And of course, here on Earth, it hasn't been this warm for 2000 years.

What could such far-flung trends possibly have in common? I don't get it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

ELP Rehearsal footage for 1976 Olympics

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Tears of a Clone

Monday, March 05, 2007

Christlike John Edwards Feels Pretty

Blessed are the shampooed.

Steve Martin Special, 1980

The rest of the five segments are here.

Prom Night Dumpster Baby

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Old Math

Evil Incarnate

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Speed Painting

Four hours of Photoshopping in 7 minutes. That's Thom Yorke of Radiohead.

Knock Knock

Better writing and more laughs than 90% of what is currently on TV.

My Magnum Opus

Some of you have emailed me asking, "Hey, what's the deal with the blog?"

Well, I've been very busy, working on a film project that has been all-consuming. Fortunately, and finally, I am now able to present this work to the world.

Right now, I'm just calling it, "The Untitled Kansas City Project." Here are parts 1 and 2. Later episodes will be posted as I finish editing them.

The allusions to Rossellini's Open City still seem a little heavy-handed, at least to me, but neo-realism is a style that is new to me, and with practice, I hope to be less obtuse in the future, perhaps even attaining the grandeur of the sort of poetic realism that Jean Renoir crafted so effortlessly.