Archive for May, 2010

Mark Dery: How the Cephalopod Became Our Zeitgeist Mascot

Mark Dery: How the Cephalopod Became Our Zeitgeist Mascot

Squid Liberty Gamma Go t-shirt

Mark Dery writes for the recently retired h+ magazine:

H.G. Wells’s Martians, in War of the Worlds (1898), are octopuses by any other name: “heads — merely heads,” their cephalopod-like beaks ringed by “whip-like” tentacles. On Wells’s Mars, ultra-advanced “mechanical appliances” and “chemical devices” rendered physical labor and even bodily processes such as digestion obsolete, begetting creatures with freakishly overdeveloped brains and shriveled, vestigial bodies. Writing in Victorian England, where the Hobbesian social order struck a sour note amid the symphony of industrial progress, Wells wondered if a similar fate awaited Homo faber. “[T]he Martians may be descended from beings not unlike ourselves, by a gradual development of brain and hands (the latter giving rise to the… delicate tentacles… ) at the expense of the rest of the body,” the narrator speculates, in War of the Worlds. “Without the body, the brain would, of course, become a mere selfish intelligence, without any of the emotional substratum of the human being.” [...]

“I believe that the totemic image for the future is the octopus,” wrote the cyberdelic philosopher Terence McKenna, in 1990. Fresh from immersion baptism in hyperreality — his first encounter, via Virtual Reality, with a 3-D simulation he could walk around in — McKenna was convinced that humanity was poised for a techno-evolutionary leap. Ever the McLuhanite, he believed that humans are transformed by their labor-saving gadgets and mind-warping media. The cephalopod pointed the way forward, he said, because squid and octopuses “have perfected a form of communication that is both psychedelic and telepathic; a model for the human communications of the future.” Rebooting McLuhan’s dream of forging, through digital connectedness, a global consciousness that transcends linguistic barriers — “a state of absorption in the logos that could knit mankind into one family and create a perpetuity of collective harmony and peace” (McLuhan) — McKenna extolled the octopus’s jaw-dropping ability to telegraph its emotional state by means of “a large repertoire of color changes, dots, blushes, and traveling bars.”

h+: Kraken Rising: How the Cephalopod Became Our Zeitgeist Mascot

See also: Fuck Yeah Octopus

May 31, 2010 1 comment
Can Bacteria Make You Smarter?

Can Bacteria Make You Smarter?

Mycobacterium Vaccae

Exposure to specific bacteria in the environment, already believed to have antidepressant qualities, could increase learning behavior, according to research presented at the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego.

“Mycobacterium vaccae is a natural soil bacterium which people likely ingest or breath in when they spend time in nature,” says Dorothy Matthews of The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York, who conducted the research with her colleague Susan Jenks.

Science Daily: Can Bacteria Make You Smarter?

(via Dangerous Meme)

May 30, 2010 1 comment
Hong Kong’s rooftop shanty towns

Hong Kong’s rooftop shanty towns

Hong Kong Rooftop slum

In South America the slums are attached to the outskirts of mega-cities such as Caracas and Mexico City like wasps’ nests on a cliff face. In a hilly island city like Hong Kong, however, living space is limited. Here you only see the laboriously constructed huts made of corrugated iron and planks of wood in which the poorest of the poor live if you look upwards – they occupy, to put it in cynical terms, a penthouse location.

Daily Tonic: The Level Up

(via Grinding)

May 30, 2010 1 comment
Rejected Psy Ops plots revealed: Saddam gay sex tape, Osama booze tape

Rejected Psy Ops plots revealed: Saddam gay sex tape, Osama booze tape

Portrait-of-Saddam-Hussein

The Guardian lists some of the CIA’s Psy Ops plots:

According to the Washington Post’s security blog, some of America’s spooks believed that shooting a fake video of Saddam cavorting with a teenage boy might destabilise his regime in the runup to the US-led invasion in 2003. “It would look like it was taken by a hidden camera. Very grainy, like it was a secret videotaping of a sex session,” the Washington Post quoted one former CIA official as saying. [...]

But that did not stop a CIA video being shot of a fake Osama bin Laden sitting around a camp fire, drinking booze and boasting of his own gay conquests.

The video apparently used some of the CIA’s “darker skinned” employees as extras playing the terror chief’s henchmen. It does not seem to have been released.

Guardian: CIA’s secret Iraq weapon revealed: a Saddam gay sex tape

(Thanks to Bill and Bryce!)

May 29, 2010 1 comment
A $95,000 question: why are whites five times richer than blacks in the US?

A $95,000 question: why are whites five times richer than blacks in the US?

African American child studying

The answer comes buried at the end of the piece:

Although many black families have moved up to better-paying jobs, they begin with fewer assets, such as inheritance, on which to build wealth. They are also more likely to have gone into debt to pay for university loans.

“African-Americans, before the 1960s, first by law and then by custom, were not really allowed to own businesses. They had very little access to credit. There was a very low artificial ceiling on the wealth that could be accumulated. Hence there was very little, if anything, that could be passed along to help their children get to college, to help their children buy their first homes, or as an inheritance when they die,” said Shapiro.

Since the 1980s, US administrations have also geared the tax system to the advantage of the better off. Taxes on unearned income, such as shares and inheritance, fell sharply and are much lower than taxes on pay.

Guardian: A $95,000 question: why are whites five times richer than blacks in the US?

(via Justin Boland)

May 29, 2010 2 comments
Puketastic interview with Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook privacy

Puketastic interview with Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook privacy

Pumpkin Puke

Zuckerberg’s constant refrain about making the world more open place makes me retch. Example:

A lot of times, I run a thought experiment, “If I were not at Facebook, what would I be doing to make the world more open?” Because I think when I got started six years ago, building a social network was the best thing to do. Now, today, I’m not sure that’s the best thing to do. Now we exist and there is a big opportunity to build atop the platform. There are all these awesome, new technologies that didn’t exist back then, like EC2 and S3. [...]

So I don’t know, one thing that is personally a bit disheartening…. It bums me out that people immediately go to “You must be doing this to make money.” Because that’s just so different from the ethos of the company. It is so different from how we actually think about stuff that you feel so misunderstood.

Gag me.

Epicenter: Mark Zuckerberg: I Donated to Open Source, Facebook Competitor

See also:

Chris Saad: “Facebook’s Claims About Data Portability Are False”

The Half Truths of Mark Zuckerberg

May 29, 2010 1 comment
CJR profile of citizen journalist John Ciampa

CJR profile of citizen journalist John Ciampa

Take special note of the fact that in addition to doing journalism, he provides services.

Ciampa says he got interested in blogging after reading a CNNMoney story about how blogging was “the next big thing.” He took it to heart, and started a blog about snowboarding. In the days before FCC disclosure regulations, he parlayed that site into a stay at Whistler Blackcomb for him and ten friends, with a heli-skiing outing thrown in, all in exchange for writing about the experience. He then became interested in search engine optimization after starting a fashion blog for his twelve-year-old niece. “FashionExpert.com” was taken, so he called it FashionExpertGirl.com. Now when you Google “fashion expert,” his niece’s blog and her critiques of Disney Channel actress’s red carpet outfits, as well as her take on New York Fashion Week looks, appears on the first page of results.

Three years ago, he started Bloggersschool.com (Tagline: You have a voice! We teach you how to use it), a Web resource full of podcasts and blogging tips on everything from how to use WordPress and keyword your site so it rises to the top of searches, to how businesses can take advantage of Facebook and Twitter and YouTube. Using the Bloggers School name, Ciampa and his business partner/fiancée, Carolina Frederico, consult with other businesses—including a Greek gyro shop in Astoria called BZ Grill and a florist in Ozone Park called A Little Shop of Flowers—on how to cultivate their Web presence, for a fee. They also hold a real-life class each month to teach mid-career types, business owners, and hobbyists how to create an online reputation that promotes their brand or expertise.

Columbia Journalism Review: The Man on the Street

(via Jay Rosen)

May 29, 2010 0 comments
Nick P. dips into the cesspool that is Alternative Right

Nick P. dips into the cesspool that is Alternative Right

typical ron paul supporter

Just in case you thought the mainstream right was too accepting of the “multicultural agenda” and StormFront is blocked at your place of work, Alternative Right has all the pro-white “analysis” you need.

Red Star Times: Right-Wing Blog Watch: Alternative Right

May 29, 2010 0 comments
Burroughs documentary maker Yony Leyser interview on the G-Spot

Burroughs documentary maker Yony Leyser interview on the G-Spot

Yony Leyser

Yony Leyser is a twenty-five-year-old filmmaker living in Chicago, Illinois, USA. He has directed several short films. After being kicked out of film school, he moved to Lawrence, Kansas, and began his passionate first feature film, William S. Burroughs: A Man Within, about one of the most interesting icons of
the 20th century.

He also works as a curator, video artist and photographer, documenting people who are outside the mainstream of society. His photograph series have included Ida, a utopian transgender commune in Tennessee; Christiana, an anarchist village in Copenhagen; Kopi, Berlin’s largest squat, and naked bike rides in the US. His work has been shown work in galleries and theaters in Chicago, New York, London, Berlin, Paris,
Vienna and Los Angeles. Yony Leyser brings a more personal perspective to Burroughs’ legacy, examining the private versus the public personae of Burroughs and the effect this may have had on his most intimate self.

The GSpot: Yony Leyser

William S. Burroughs: The Man Within

May 28, 2010 0 comments
Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains

Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains

The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains

I’m helping make you stupid:

In a Science article published in early 2009, prominent developmental psychologist Patricia Greenfield reviewed more than 40 studies of the effects of various types of media on intelligence and learning ability. She concluded that “every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others.” Our growing use of the Net and other screen-based technologies, she wrote, has led to the “widespread and sophisticated development of visual-spatial skills.” But those gains go hand in hand with a weakening of our capacity for the kind of “deep processing” that underpins “mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection.”

We know that the human brain is highly plastic; neurons and synapses change as circumstances change. When we adapt to a new cultural phenomenon, including the use of a new medium, we end up with a different brain, says Michael Merzenich, a pioneer of the field of neuroplasticity. That means our online habits continue to reverberate in the workings of our brain cells even when we’re not at a computer. We’re exercising the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading and thinking deeply.

Wired: Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains

As I said during my interview with Ashley Crawford (Pay attention here! Don’t click that link yet!), I’m that reading off more limited mobile devices like my Blackberry and my iPod touch is helping me concentrate on reading longer, more substantive material. Reading on my computer, with its tabbed browser, has a tendency to destroy my attention span.

I’m trying to discipline myself to browse first, read later – find stuff of interest by scanning through feeds, Twitter etc, and then go over the stuff I’ve flagged to read before I go back and find more stuff.

Do you have any strategies for navigating the web without destroying your attention span, or do you think that the transformation of our brains could actually be a good thing?

May 28, 2010 3 comments