the profits of fear

Elected representatives on committees that established policy at the highest level were motivated by base self-interest, expediency, and petty rivalries. They were not only ignorant, but uninterested in educating themselves. Given a choice between saving public money and spending it, they preferred to spend it. Allowed the option of destroying a city or leaving it unscathed, they opted to destroy it. Forced to choose between maximizing human suffering on innocent civilians or minimizing it, they chose to maximize it.

a must-read piece on sam cohen, the inventor of the neutron bomb, which he concluded, quite legitimately, was the most moral weapon ever developed. if history education were designed to prevent the eternal rehashing of mistakes, this is what would be taught. we get to obsess over times and places, instead of explaining the (lack of) thinking behind events that shaped the world. my history education was fairly short on recent developments, and i had to learn about game theory and nuclear deterrence on my own. considering how much they shaped the world we live in, i wish there was more emphasis on them. one way to do that might be to start from the present and work backwards. this would make sure you don’t run out of time just as you get to the present (happened in my high school, for sure), and would put the weight on what is probably most important today. on the other hand, one might argue that in order to understand the present, you need to be more mature, and therefore you are first presented with all these tales about ages past, until you grow up enough to hear the juicy stuff. another option might be to work with the arcs of history (page 4) that philip bobbitt had in his excellent the shield of achilles.

towards psychohistory

nobelist murray gell-mann of the santa fe institute gave a lecture on patterns in cultural anthropology today. gell-mann demonstrated how various phenomena in sociology, anthropology and history follow guttman scaling.
Scaling is the branch of measurement that involves the construction of an instrument that associates qualitative constructs with quantitative metric units. Scaling evolved out of efforts in psychology and education to measure “unmeasurable” constructs like authoritarianism and self esteem. In many ways, scaling remains one of the most arcane and misunderstood aspects of social research measurement. And, it attempts to do one of the most difficult of research tasks — measure abstract concepts.
this discovery, which was long suppressed because it did not fit the prevailing ideology in anthropology, delivers some supporting evidence for the ideas expressed in asimovs psychohistory: the premise that the development of societies can be modeled, and that public policy can be forecast by mathematical means.
with the end of anthropology likely, as indigenous tribes disappear from the face of the earth, new venues for research need to be found. gell-mann suggested acculturation and the study of migration as promising areas. closely related, a study of history by arnold toynbee is a seminal work that deserves more attention.


It was about the beginning of September, 1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard in ordinary discourse that the plague was returned again in Holland; for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in the year 1663, whither, they say, it was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus. It mattered not from whence it came; but all agreed it was come into Holland again.

i just finished daniel defoe’s a journal of the plague year.

galvanic reanimation

The first of these decapitated criminals being conveyed to the apartment provided for my experiments, in the neighborhood of the place of execution, the head was first subjected to the Galvanic action. For this purpose I had constructed a pile consisting of a hundred pieces of silver and zinc. Having moistened the inside of the ears with salt water, I formed an arc with two metallic wires, which, proceeding from the two ears, were applied, one to the summit and the other to the bottom of the pile. When this communication was established, I observed strong contractions in the muscles of the face, which were contorted in so irregular a manner that they exhibited the appearance of the most horrid grimaces. The action of the eye-lids was exceedingly striking, though less sensible in the human head than in that of an ox.


refreshingly tasteless

i’m in that mood again. when everything tasteless has a mesmerizing quality, and the mind yearns for relief from the onslaught of facts that is also known as prepping. lucky me that i rediscovered a book that i had never opened so far. here is a sample:

Louis XIV of France ( 1638- 1715)
During the French Revolution the tomb of the French king was wrecked and plundered. His heart was stolen and sold to Lord Harcourt who later sold it to the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend William Buckland. One night at dinner, the Dean, who liked to experiment with food, ate the embalmed heart.

if only i could remember who gave me that book as a gift. must have been a kindred spirit.

kissing dictators

joshua hits it on the head when he ridicules carters recent nobel prize.

He took to heart the idea of “turn the other cheek”, and began in earnest to seek out any evil or violent dictator with whom he could hug, kiss, and turn the other cheek to demonstrate the true peace-loving and affable “Carter” nature. Carter redoubled his efforts, though, and his love sessions with Fidel Castro, Hafez al Assad, Kim Il Sung, and the Sandinistas seem to have done the trick. [of winning him the nobel prize]