Category Archives: Noteworthy

Quote of the day: Mere anarchy is loosed. . .


And with apologies to William Butler Yeats for our headline.

From Adam Curtis, brilliant documentary filmmaker and cultural critics, writing at his BBC blog:

Politicians used to have the confidence to tell us stories that made sense of the chaos of world events.

But now there are no big stories and politicians react randomly to every new crisis — leaving us bewildered and disorientated.

And journalism — that used to tell a grand, unfurling narrative — now also just relays disjointed and often wildly contradictory fragments of information.

Events come and go like waves of a fever. We — and the journalists — live in a state of continual delirium, constantly waiting for the next news event to loom out of the fog — and then disappear again, unexplained.

And the formats — in news and documentaries — have become so rigid and repetitive that the audiences never really look at them.

In the face of this people retreat from journalism and politics. They turn away into their own worlds, and the stories they and their friends tell each other.

I think this is wrong, sad, and bad for democracy — because it means the politicians become more and more unaccountable.

Brazilian regime: Screw the poor, sell the commons


And the indigenous people of Brazil?

Screw them, too.

From the Guardian:

It is just a week since Michel Temer became interim president of Brazil, but his new centre-right administration already has begun scaling back many of the social policies put in place by Workers’ party governments over the previous 13 years.

Moves are under way to soften the definition of slavery, roll back the demarcation of indigenous land, trim housebuilding programs and sell off state assets in airports, utilities and the post office. Newly appointed ministers also are talking of cutting healthcare spending and reducing the cost of the bolsa familia poverty relief system. Four thousand government jobs have been cut. The culture ministry has been subsumed into education.

>snip<

Renato Boschi, a professor of social and political studies at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, said the new administration – with no female or black senior ministers – was unrepresentative and its cost-cutting goals were implausible.

“It’s a completely rightwing government. Even [President Mauricio] Macri in Argentina is not as rightwing as Temer’s government,” he said.

Inspirational: Movie house air mirrors viewer moods


Our language is filled with metaphors for breathing: Conspiracy ion the Latin means literally “breathing together,” just as inspiration means breathing in.

In recent years we’ve learned that plants communicate by airborne signals, most notably when an injury to one plant triggers defensive reactions in other nearby plants a process some scientists are hoping to thwart through genetic engineering.

And then there’s this 2007 report from the University of California, Berkeley:

Just a few whiffs of a chemical found in male sweat is enough to raise levels of cortisol, a hormone commonly associated with alertness or stress, in heterosexual women, according to a new study by University of California, Berkeley, scientists.

The study, reported this week in The Journal of Neuroscience, provides the first direct evidence that humans, like rats, moths and butterflies, secrete a scent that affects the physiology of the opposite sex.

“This is the first time anyone has demonstrated that a change in women’s hormonal levels is induced by sniffing an identified compound of male sweat,” as opposed to applying a chemical to the upper lip, said study leader Claire Wyart, a post-doctoral fellow at UC Berkeley.

And a 2015 report from Indiana University:

A new study from Indiana University provides evidence in mice that males may play a positive role in the development of offspring’s brains starting before pregnancy.

The research, reported June 30 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, [$29.25 for access — esnl] found that female mice exposed to male pheromones gave birth to infants with greater mental ability.

“This is the first study to show that pheromone exposure exerts an influence across generations in mammals,” said Sachiko Koyama, an associate research scientist at the IU Bloomington Medical Sciences Program and visiting scientist at the IU College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, who led the study.

“We found that male pheromones seem to influence the nutritional environment following birth, resulting in changes to the brain that could extend to future generations,” she added.

And now we’ve got all that out of the way, consider the implications for whta you’ve read when you peruse this report from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry:

Tapped Cinema air: Thomas Kluepfel installs a tube into the ventilation system of a movie theatre in the Mainz Cinestar to through which the exhaust air is directed into a mass spectrometer. This analysed the air during numerous screenings in 30-second intervals. Especially suspense and funny movies leave a unique chemical signature in the air. © MPI for Chemistry

Tapped Cinema air: Thomas Kluepfel installs a tube into the ventilation system of a movie theatre in the Mainz Cinestar to through which the exhaust air is directed into a mass spectrometer. This analysed the air during numerous screenings in 30-second intervals. Especially suspense and funny movies leave a unique chemical signature in the air. © MPI for Chemistry

It is now possible to determine whether a movie scene is full of suspense, funny or somewhat boring, using chemistry. The Mainz researchers investigated how the composition of the air changed when an audience watched movies from different genres such as comedies like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “Buddy”, or fantasy movies like “The Hobbit” and the science-fiction thriller “The Hunger Games”. The researchers determined how the audience reacted to individual movies on a scene-by-scene basis. Using their analyses, they were also able to reconstruct which scenes were playing at the time. The chemical patterns are best defined during suspense or funny scenes.

“The chemical signature of ‘The Hunger Games’ was very clear; even when we repeated the measurements with different audiences,” says Jonathan Williams, group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. “The carbon dioxide and isoprene levels in the air always increased significantly as the heroine began fighting for her life,” the atmospheric chemist continues. Williams and his team are more usually involved in the measurement of gases from the Amazon rainforest. Isoprene is one of more than 800 chemical compounds typically exhaled by healthy persons in tiny amounts in addition to carbon dioxide. However, it is not yet known what physiological processes are causing the formation of the molecules.

One explanation for the increasing carbon dioxide and isoprene levels, according to the Mainz researchers, is the fact that moviegoers tense up, become restless and breathe faster when watching scenes of suspense. Funny sequences consistently resulted in different molecular traces in the air than moments of excitement or suspense. “We can clearly differentiate the mass spectra,” says Williams.

There’s lots more after the jump. . . Continue reading

A must-watch: Requiem for the American Dream


The definitive Noam Chomsky video, featuring an extended interview conducted over four years in which he outlines his view of the state of American democracy.

And do set it to high resolution and full screen.

Requiem for the American Dream

The synopsis from IMDB:

REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM is the definitive discourse with Noam Chomsky, widely regarded as the most important intellectual alive, on the defining characteristic of our time – the deliberate concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a select few. Through interviews filmed over four years, Chomsky unpacks the principles that have brought us to the crossroads of historically unprecedented inequality – tracing a half century of policies designed to favor the most wealthy at the expense of the majority – while also looking back on his own life of activism and political participation. Profoundly personal and thought provoking, Chomsky provides penetrating insight into what may well be the lasting legacy of our time – the death of the middle class, and swan song of functioning democracy. A potent reminder that power ultimately rests in the hands of the governed, REQUIEM is required viewing for all who maintain hope in a shared stake in the future.
– Written by Jared P. Scott

Using interviews filmed over four years, Noam Chomsky discusses the deliberate concentration of wealth and power found in the hands of a select few.

Release date: January 29, 2016 (USA)

Directors: Kelly Nyks, Jared P. Scott, Peter D. Hutchison
Music composed by: Malcolm Francis
Screenplay: Kelly Nyks, Jared P. Scott, Peter D. Hutchison
Producers: Kelly Nyks, Jared P. Scott, Peter D. Hutchison
Cinematography: Rob Featherstone, Michael McSweeney

Map of the day: Comparing populations to GDP


Another pair of those informative cartograms from Views of the World, the blog of Benjamin Hennig, Oxford University Senior Research Fellow in the School of Geography and the Environment.

This time, the maps reflect nations with their borders rescaled to reflect each country’s share of global GDP and population:

BLOG Map

From his post, where you can also find a much larger version and a third map of interest as well

The world is ever changing. This year, we live on a planet of 7.4 billion people who contribute products and services worth approximately US$80 trillion in nominal terms. However, population and wealth as measured in GDP activity are not distributed equally across the world which remains one of the challenges of our time. The following two cartograms illustrate this by highlighting where people are and where in contrast GDP wealth is made – the unequal distributions in our world today are quite obvious:

To balance out these disparities, developing and emerging economies would need to catch up at a much faster rate than the industrialised nations, which China for example has done in the past two decades at an incredible pace (at times peaking at more than 15% annual growth, and in recent years still carrying on at levels of above 5%). Other less wealthy countries, in contrast, are growing much slower, and sometimes do not even keep pace with the wealthy parts of the world.

No violent crime pulse after Cal prison releases


If California has an industry, it’s prisons, the result of public policies, intensive lobbying by the powerful prison guard union, private prison industries, and law-and-order Republicans. And, of course, the war of drugs and its disproportionate incarceration of people of color.

The net result between 1982 and 2000 was a five-fold increase in California prison inmates, demanding a building surge of 23 new state prisons, each costing between $280 million to $350 million.

But even with the surge in construction, the flood of new inmates continued, outpacing the flurry of new construction.

The inevitable happened, as Newsweek noted in a 22 March 2015 report:

Imagine a society where convicts were sentenced to death by untreated renal failure or denial of chemotherapy. Modern Americans would surely consider such a place barbaric and cruel.

Yet in the 1990s and 2000s, California essentially meted out such punishments, knowingly shoveling unprecedented numbers of convicts into overcrowded, under-equipped prisons to serve long, hopeless sentences.

In 2006, “a preventable or possibly preventable death occurred” somewhere in California’s prison system “once every five to six days,” the U.S. Supreme Court observed in the 2011 case of Brown v. Plata. It’s hard to find medical staff even for functional prisons; vacancies in the California system ranged from 20 percent for doctors to 44 percent for X-ray technicians.

But an excess of inmates, more than a lack of doctors, caused the state’s prison health care crisis. Built to house roughly 80,000 people, California’s prisons were stuffed with twice that many residents, prompting Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency.

With every cell full, prison officials had packed gymnasiums with double and triple bunks. In one such makeshift dormitory, a prisoner was beaten to death. No one on the prison staff noticed for several hours.

When the federal courts intervened, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown finally acted, as Reuters reported:

In 2012, under court order to reduce prison overcrowding, California announced an ambitious criminal justice reform plan that promised not only to meet the court mandate but also to improve criminal sentencing and “save billions of dollars.”

Now, three years after implementing the changes, California has reduced its prison population by some 30,000 inmates, and the state is in the vanguard of a prison reform movement spreading across the country, with support from both the right and the left.

>snip<

California’s reforms are rooted in a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which found that the state’s overcrowded prisons violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

At the time, 20,000 inmates were sleeping on makeshift triple bunk beds set up in prison gymnasiums and day rooms. The court ordered California to reduce crowding from 200 percent of capacity to a more manageable 137.5 percent.

In May, 2011, the day after the Supreme Court ordered an end to California prison overcrowding, hysteria reigned, as the Los Angeles Times reported:

“Citizens will pay a real price as crime victims, as thousands of convicted felons will be on the streets with minimal supervision,” Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said in a statement. “Many of these ‘early release’ prisoners will commit crimes which would never have occurred had they remained in custody.”

“It’s an undue burden …to deal with the state’s problems,’‘ said Jerry Gutierrez, chief deputy of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

Republican lawmakers said they would continue to fight the governor’s plan and its reliance on tax increases. Democrats “are looking for any excuse they can to try to have more taxes,” said the leader of the state Senate’s GOP minority, Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga.

Bu were those fears justified?

Not according to a new research report from three academics who examined crime statistics before and after the massive California prison releases.

From Indiana University:

A paper published in the journal Criminology & Public Policy addresses one of the most important crime policy questions in America: Can prison populations be reduced without endangering the public?

That question was examined by researchers who tested the impact on public safety of California’s dramatic efforts to comply with court-mandated targets to reduce prison overcrowding

The results showed that California’s Realignment Act, passed in 2011, had no effect on aggregate violent or property crime rates in 2012, 2013 or 2014. When crime types were disaggregated, a moderately large, statistically significant association between realignment and auto theft rates was observed in 2012. By 2014, however, this effect had decayed, and auto theft rates returned to pre-realignment levels.

The paper, Is Downsizing Prisons Dangerous? The Effect of California’s Realignment Act on Public Safety [$15 read-only, $38 to read and print — esnl],” was authored by Jody Sundt, associate dean and associate professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; Emily Salisbury, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; and Mark Harmon, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: World’s greatest sportscaster


Vin Scully is finally calling it quits after 67 years as the announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Literate, witty, and blessed with a tone that never condescends to his listeners, Scully is always a pleasure to hear.

When he drops the mic at the end of this year’s season, both the Dodgers and baseball will the poor for it.

From a valedictory retrospective Sports Illustrated profile of Scully by  baseball writer Tom Verducci:

At age 88, in preparing for his 67th home opener, Scully notices a player on the opposing Diamondbacks’ roster with the name Socrates Brito. The minute he sees the name, Scully thinks, Oh, I can’t let that go! Socrates Brito! Inspired in the way of a rookie broadcaster, Scully dives into his research. So when Brito comes to the plate, Scully tells the story of the imprisonment and death by hemlock of Socrates, the Greek philosopher. Good stuff, but eloquentia perfecta asks more:

“But what in the heck is hemlock?” Scully tells his listeners. “For those of you that care at all, it’s of the parsley family, and the juice from that little flower, that poisonous plant, that’s what took Socrates away.”

It’s a perfect example of a device Scully uses to inform without being pedantic. He engages listeners personally and politely with conditionals such as For those of you that care … and In case you were wondering…. Immediately you do care and you do wonder.

Scully isn’t done with Socrates. In the ninth inning, Brito drives in a run with a triple to put Arizona ahead 3–1.

“Socrates Brito feeds the Dodgers the hemlock.”