Squirrels: Frenzied, But Not Teething

March 22, 2015 at 10:53 am | Posted in Brain and mind | 3 Comments
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An Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) in St James's Park, London, England.  Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0 .

An Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) in St James’s Park, London, England. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0 .

A previous post asked for an explanation of a puzzling frenzy that squirrels exhibit each Spring and Fall. Thin new twigs of trees rain down upon the ground. Each twig has been bitten off by a squirrel, who then apparently immediately drops it without even nibbling it. Since there is a new crop of baby squirrels each Spring and Fall, the post had hypothesized that this vandalism was committed by teething baby squirrels. It asked observant readers to post as comments anything they observed that confirmed or refuted that hypothesis, and also to post any explanations that they knew of, or alternative hypotheses.

Twigs that had been chewed off by squirrels and unceremoniously dropped.  Photo by thepoliblog.WordPress.com.

Twigs that had been chewed off by squirrels and unceremoniously dropped. Photo by thepoliblog.WordPress.com.

The Spring frenzy started up at our house about two weeks ago, and it provides a partial answer.

There are no baby squirrels yet. So the rain of bitten-off but uneaten twigs cannot be due to the teething of baby squirrels. It is due to bezerk adults.

But what drives the adult squirrels into this frenzy?

In the Spring, all of the bitten-off twigs are new, and bear clusters of buds. But the frenzy is not due to squirrels being tickled or startled by the new twigs, because there are no new twigs during the Fall frenzy.

Are the twigs bitten off as a metaphorical chest-thumping by horny male squirrels?

Are they bitten off only by pregnant squirrels?

The twigs are not bitten off for nest-building, because the bitten-off twigs are all allowed to fall to the ground, where they are allowed to remain indefinitely.

Spring Break doesn’t seem to be a likely explanation, unless squirrels also have a Fall Break.
This explanation is additionally implausible because beer pong is considered to be beneath the dignity and intelligence of any squirrel.

The relevant Wikipedia article states that, ” To sharpen their teeth, squirrels will often chew on tree branches or even the occasional live power line.” Is that why they are biting off the new twigs? No, because if they were doing it to sharpen their teeth, they would not also do it in the Fall, I think.
If you spot a potential answer to this mystery, please post it as a comment below.

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Luanne Castle’s new book of Poetry: Doll God

January 24, 2015 at 3:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Golden laurel wreath, probably from Cyprus, 4th/3rd century BC; Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim, Germany, photographed by Andreas Praefcke in April, 2007.

Golden laurel wreath, probably from Cyprus, 4th/3rd century BC; Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim, Germany, photographed by Andreas Praefcke in April, 2007.

Luanne Castle, whose very popular blog is at http://writersite.org , has just published a book of poetry, Doll God.

Here is the review I posted on Amazon.

Trajectories:
The changing feelings and conditions
Of a person,
Of two people,
Of an animal,
Of an object,
Over an hour or a lifetime,
Each captured in a concise slide-show,
Each snap-shot taken
With empathy
And insight.

=

=

Not included in that review were lines that particularly struck me.

‘Calculating Loss’ (on p.51) included the wise observation,
“Every day the world subtracts from itself and nothing
is immune”.

‘Between the Art and the Muse’ (p.17) contains the phrase
“… yearning
out the window to his rightfulness”. Replace ‘his’ by ‘her’ when appropriate, and you have a phrase that captures the innermost thought of everyone who has experienced unrequited love.

=

=

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Violent Video Games, Horror Movies, Distressing Literature, Scary Rides at Amusement Parks

January 14, 2015 at 8:09 pm | Posted in Brain and mind, Practical tips | 2 Comments
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Female disguised as a Vampire, taken at E3 Trade show, 12 May 2000, by Carniphage.

Female disguised as a Vampire, taken at E3 Trade show, 12 May 2000, by Carniphage.

The previous post showed why performing gangsta rap, or listening to it, might raise blood pressure, and might boost the amount of stress hormones circulating in the blood. It also pointed out that we could and should test whether those damaging effects actually occur.

This post points out that the same damaging effects could result from playing violent video games, or from watching horror movies, or from reading distressing literature, or from taking scary rides at amusement parks.

Agrianian peltast. He holds three javelins, one in his throwing hand and two in his pelte hand as additional ammunition. Agrianian Peltast by Johnny Shumate For more information about illustrations, email shumate_j@bellsouth.net

Agrianian peltast. He holds three javelins, one in his throwing hand and two in his pelte hand as additional ammunition.
Agrianian Peltast by Johnny Shumate For more information about illustrations, email shumate_j@bellsouth.net

Battle for Sarajevo in 1878, as depicted by G. Durand (1800-1899) in The Graphic (a London newspaper).

Battle for Sarajevo in 1878, as depicted by G. Durand (1800-1899) in The Graphic (a London newspaper).

In a violent video game, you stalk, and are stalked, all the time. Extreme alertness is demanded. Paranoia is essential. Paradoxically, your intense focus produces a state whose single mindedness is akin to that in meditation. But every change is sudden, and threatening, which block the usual beneficial effects of meditation. Instead, your pulse races, you have an adrenalin high, you itch to use your weapon.

What is your blood pressure all the while? Which stress hormones are boosted, by how much, and for how long?

Studio publicity still of Alfred Hitchcock.

Studio publicity still of Alfred Hitchcock.

A movie by Alfred Hitchcock, or any other horror movie, also produces a sense of being stalked, except that here you are being stalked vicariously, through your temporary avatar, who is first one, and later another, of the victims in the movie.

Jean Valjean, drawn by Gustave Brion (1824-1877) to illustrate Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables.

Jean Valjean, drawn by Gustave Brion (1824-1877) to illustrate Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables.

The same is true in distressing literature, low or high, and in tragic opera. While you are reading or viewing Les Miserables, one of your avatars is Jean Valjean, except when it temporarily becomes Fantine, and then a person fighting at the barricades. Each temporarily becomes your avatar, regardless of whether their sex coincides with yours or not.

To your mind, it feels as if you are actually experiencing the fictional events that befall each of those avatars. It feels like an experience, because you are mentally mirroring first one temporary avatar, and then another. As described in previous posts, mental mirroring evolved early, because it is so useful for telling an animal what to do next. Birds do it. Possibly fish do it. Mental mirroring is easily mistaken for a reflexive response, but is based instead on an animal’s real-time attempted simulation of the mental world of another individual, who may be real (another animal) or imagined (a storm, something that tripped you, a god). Mammals do it well, to the point where some can feel empathy for other individuals of their own or different species. Humans have developed mental mirroring so highly that mental mirroring has led to science, art, philosophy, and religion, as described in those previous posts. We will inevitably eventually build mental mirroring into future robots that are designed to function autonomously.

Because of mental mirroring, the harrowing experiences of each of your temporary avatars become your own, and can raise your blood pressure, and can saturate you with stress hormones.

Steel Force and Thunderhawk at Dorney Park in Allentown, PA. Photo by Ryan Painter.

Steel Force and Thunderhawk at Dorney Park in Allentown, PA. Photo by Ryan Painter.

Roller coasters and boats on rivers through haunted caves act in different ways. On a roller coaster you are awash in adrenalin. The outside world becomes a confusing blur, so there is no heightened alertness to the external world, as would occur in a violent video game. But you do become intently focused on your internal state, alert to every uneasiness in the pit of your stomach, and to every hint of dizziness. But blood pressure and stress hormones both increase. On a boat inside a haunted cave the effects are much like those in a scary movie. So both blood pressure and stress hormones increase here, too.

So all of the activities discussed in this post could increase blood pressure and stress hormones, just as gangsta rap probably does.

If so, there would still be substantial eventual damage. The damage would first become manifest years from now.

The activities discussed in this post are much less frequent than is listening to gangsta rap, or to performing it. But since the potential cumulative damage is still severe, it would still be important to test by measurement, for each of the activities discussed in this and the previous post, whether blood pressure and stress hormones increase during that activity. The expectation that they increase might turn out to be incorrect. If increases do occur, they might turn out to be much smaller than expected, because each of these activities is voluntary rather than imposed. But we need to find out, as individuals and as a society.

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Gangsta Rap Music, Blood Pressure, and Stress Hormones

January 12, 2015 at 9:32 pm | Posted in Practical tips | 1 Comment
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Ice-T during the Body Count concert. Prague, August 2006, photographed by Mohylek.

Ice-T during the Body Count concert. Prague, August 2006, photographed by Mohylek.

Rap music features intense rhythm and rhyme. It is a contemporary form of poetry.

The popularity of rap shows that some forms of poetry have not lost their power to move us.

Rythm and rhyme. In poetry, the words are dancing. And you are dancing with the words.

Contra dance sets, seen from the balcony of the town house of Peterborough, New Hampshire. Courtesy of J. Peidle. The original source page is http://www.neffa.org/invite.shtml

Contra dance sets, seen from the balcony of the town house of Peterborough, New Hampshire. Courtesy of J. Peidle. The original source page is http://www.neffa.org/invite.shtml

That is why poetry can affect us so strongly.

But rap music, especially gangsta rap, possesses two distinctive features that other poetry does not.

The first distinctive feature is that in all rap the words are uttered as rapidly as possible. Rap becomes two simultaneous athletic games of skill, one for the rapper, and one for the listener. The rapper is challenged to utter the words as rapidly as possible, and the listener is challenged to understand them as they whiz by. Both the rapper and the listener experience stress from this. But they also derive a glow of elation when they rise to their respective challenges.

The second distinctive feature is that gangsta rap is aggressive and aggrieved, in both tone and topic.

Both of these distinctive features probably raise the blood pressure of both the listeners and the performers. More generally, these distinctive features probably make stress hormones more abundant in the blood.

Automatic brachial sphygmomanometer showing grade 2 arterial hypertension (systolic blood pressure 158 mmHg, diastolic blood pressure 99 mmHg). Heart rate shown is 80 beats per minute.  Photographed 4 February 2009 by Steven Fruitsmaak.

Automatic brachial sphygmomanometer showing grade 2 arterial hypertension (systolic blood pressure 158 mmHg, diastolic blood pressure 99 mmHg). Heart rate shown is 80 beats per minute. Photographed 4 February 2009 by Steven Fruitsmaak.

Prolonged high blood pressure does damage. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones does damage (see here, herehere, and here). Performing or listening to rap for an hour would increase both blood pressure and the production of stress chemicals for at least an hour.

We may be facing a deluge of excess strokes, heart attacks and other severe health problems, beginning about 30 years from now. That would produce enormous unnecessary personal, social and economic pain.

The effect of gangsta rap on the blood pressure and blood chemistry can be tested, and should be, for both listeners and performers. How large are the changes, and how long do they last?

Doctors and researchers in physiology could make the maesurements. But the measurements would also make an enjoyable and useful science fair project.

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CREDO and MoveOn

October 25, 2014 at 4:19 pm | Posted in Enemies of Freedom, Terrorism | Leave a comment
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Study for the head of a young man sitting in the foreground to the right of the fresco The Reconciliation between Aemilius Lepidus and Fulvius Flaccus of the Sala del Concistoro in Palazzo Pubblico, Siena. Drawing acquired by the French state in 2004 for the Musée du Louvre, département des Arts graphiques,  Domenico di Pace Beccafumi (1484–1551), 1520s, Musée du Louvre, département des Arts graphiques, Paris, France. Source: Livre De la Renaissance à l'Âge baroque : une collection de dessins italiens pour les musées de France. Exposition présentée au Musée du Louvre, salle de la Chapelle, du 8 juin au 29 août 2005. Paris : Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2005. ISBN 9782711849758

Study for the head of a young man sitting in the foreground to the right of the fresco The Reconciliation between Aemilius Lepidus and Fulvius Flaccus of the Sala del Concistoro in Palazzo Pubblico, Siena. Drawing acquired by the French state in 2004 for the Musée du Louvre, département des Arts graphiques, Domenico di Pace Beccafumi (1484–1551), 1520s, Musée du Louvre, département des Arts graphiques, Paris, France. Source: Livre De la Renaissance à l’Âge baroque : une collection de dessins italiens pour les musées de France. Exposition présentée au Musée du Louvre, salle de la Chapelle, du 8 juin au 29 août 2005. Paris : Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2005. ISBN 9782711849758

When well-intentioned organizations do not think things through, they can cause great harm.

Such is the case for CREDO and for MoveOn.

Both organizations are idealistic, and aspire to be humane.

But their opposition to the use of lethal force has become reflexive and unthinking. The result is that both organizations inadvertantly facilitate cruelty and evil.

Both organizations have become enablers of what they claim to oppose.

By opposing military action against ISIS, both organizations now facilitate beheadings, barbaric rules for women (stifling their natural human diversity), military action by ISIS, and by emulators of ISIS, such as the Taliban and Boko Haram. Indirectly, the attitudes esposed by CREDO and by MoveOn facilitate all those who chafe at the constraints imposed on civilzed behavior, including Putin (the great emulator of Mussolini), and the Chinese police, in their treatment of both real and imagined differences of opinion.

This comes on top of CREDO’s opposition to punishing Assad for using chemical weapons. All those who suffered from Assad’s subsequent use of barrel bombs, and his other attacks on civilians, owe their suffering in part to CREDO.

CREDO and MoveOn, you are facilitating evil by others. You are facilitating the suffering of innocents.

You are asking the open societies of the world to be suicidally passive.

If that is not the case, then prove it, by specifying specific situtations where you would regard the use of lethal force as justified.

Becky Bond, you are facilitating beheadings, barbaric rules for women, and the torture and killing and enslaving and coercion of innocents.

Zack Malitz, you are facilitating beheadings, barbaric rules for women, and the torture and killing and enslaving and coercion of innocents.

Josh Nelson, you are facilitating beheadings, barbaric rules for women, and the torture and killing and enslaving and coercion of innocents.

The same is true of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Anna Galand, Matt Blizek, Mari Tchijov, Sister Simone Campbell, Ilya Sheyman, Victoria Kaplan, and Susan Sarandon.

Astoundingly, the Democratic National Committee (the DNC), which should know better, recently broadcast an email promoting CREDO. That block-headed decision has proviked the present posting.

DNC, you are facilitating the torture and killing and enslaving and coercion of innocents.

Anyone who signs any of CREDO’s or MoveOn’s petitions is contributing to those organization’s facilitating of beheadings, barbaric rules for women, and the torture and killing and enslaving and coercion of innocents. The goal of an individual petition may be worthy, such as for overturning Citizens United, but more thoughtful organizations offer similar petitions.

Anyone who contributes to CREDO or to MoveOn is contributing to those organization’s facilitating of beheadings, barbaric rules for women, and the torture and killing and enslaving and coercion of innocents.

I contributed over $1000 to Obama’s first campaign.

Many emailed requests to sign petitions and to contribute have arrived come from CREDO and MoveOn and the DNC since the DNCs email promoting CREDO. All have been for causes I strongly support. Ordinarily, as in the past, I would have signed and contributed.

But ever since CREDO and MoveOn announced their opposition to using lethal force against ISIS and similar groups, it has become immoral to do so, even for the causes I support. I will continue to promote those causes, but not by any route that is associated with CREDO and MoveOn. Contributing or adding my voice to those two organizations or their facilitators, such as the DNC, would prolong the agony of those who are injured by ISIS and by those other vicious organizations, it would promote cruelty, intolerance, and would retard the continued existence of open socities, and their spreading.

No person who understands this should contribute to any of the organizations named above, for any of the causes they espouse, until those organizations rethink their positions about the use of lethal force against ISIS, the Taliban, al Qaeda, Boko Haram and like organizations, and Assad.

There are other organizations to which it might still be moral to contribute, since I am not aware of their having promoted CREDO and MoveOn. But after the DNC’s surprising decision to do so, we cannot be sure, until they make explicit their own positions on the use of lethal force.
The organizations in question are the DSCC (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee), Color of Change, ActBlue, AmeriCares, Organizing for Action, DCCC, and UltraViolet.

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Political contributions, the BuyPartisan Mobile app, and Citizens United

August 22, 2014 at 7:55 pm | Posted in Dysfunctional Politics, Fairness, Judicial Misjudgment | 2 Comments
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A US two dollar bill. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dollar "US $2 obverse". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_$2_obverse.jpg#mediaviewer/File:US_$2_obverse.jpg

A US two dollar bill. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dollar
“US $2 obverse”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_$2_obverse.jpg#mediaviewer/File:US_$2_obverse.jpg

There is a new free app for mobile devices, BuyPartisan, developed by Spend Consciously, Inc. (Although the app is presently available only for Apple devices, Spend Consciously plans to release a version for Android devices in the very near future.)

The SpendConsciously.com web site suggests that you use your mobile device to scan the barcode of the product you are considering. The app will display the political donations of the CEO, Board of Directors and employees of the company that produced the product. On the basis of that information, you can decide whether or not to buy the product. You can also tell your friends what you have found out.

Two related articles (one by Colby Itkowitz, and one by Al Kamen and Colby Itkowitz) in the Washington Post describe what they discovered by using the app.

Subsequently the Editors of the Washington Post disparaged the new app, claiming that it would intensify political polarization.

But in coming to that conclusion, the Editors forgot an important new factor, namely, the Supreme Court’s misguided ruling on Citizens United.

The ruling on Citizens United magnifies the impact of an individual CEO + Board of Directors on an election far above above that of an ordinary citizen. A CEO and Board of Directors can favor their preferred candidate by using the vast financial resources of his corporation to the candidate or proposed law that they personally favor. You cannot.

"1900 New York polling place" by E. Benjamin Andrews - Andrews, E. Benjamin. History of the United States, volume V. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. 1912. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1900_New_York_polling_place.jpg#mediaviewer/File:1900_New_York_polling_place.jpg

“1900 New York polling place” by E. Benjamin Andrews – Andrews, E. Benjamin. History of the United States, volume V. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 1912. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1900_New_York_polling_place.jpg#mediaviewer/File:1900_New_York_polling_place.jpg

In an election, a voter has two kinds of votes.

There is a direct vote, by making a choice on a ballot.

There is an indirect vote, by contributing or not contributing to a candidate or to a proposed law.

The CEO and Board of Directors’ huge contribution easily drowns out the much smaller contribution that is feasible for most ordinary citizens.  The Supreme Court’s illogical decision dramatically undercuts your indirect vote. The Supreme Court’s ruling implicitly transforms the United States into an oligarchy.

The money that the CEO can appropriate in this manner is derived from the company’s sales to its customers.

Your only way of influencing the amount that the CEO and Board of Directors has available for this legal but unjust diversion of corporate funds? Either buy or do not buy from their company.

The Supreme Court’s politically partisan decision on Citizens United has thus linked buying decisions to political positions.

The linkage acts whether or not you – or the Editors of the Washington Post – recognize its presence.

That is why citizens now need to determine the political preferences of the CEO and Board of Directors of any company they might use.

Without apps like BuyPartisan, a great deal of time consuming detective work would be required for you to obtain that information. The app makes it easy.

Contrary to the position taken by the Editors of the Washington Post, using this app is now imperative for good citizenship.

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How to Block the Evil Eye on Your Computer

August 19, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Posted in Privacy | 4 Comments
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"Webcam000c1" by Simon.zfn - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Webcam000c1.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Webcam000c1.jpg

“Webcam000c1″ by Simon.zfn – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Webcam000c1.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Webcam000c1.jpg

You may have turned your webcam off.  But malware may have subsequently turned it back on.

You may think that your face, voice, actions, and the appearance of your current location are private, when they are not.

This danger has been known for a while.  The Wikipedia page on webcams says “… privacy is lost when Trojan horse programs allow malicious hackers to activate the webcam without the user’s knowledge, providing the hackers with a live video and audio feed.  …  Some webcams have built-in hardwired LED indicators that light up whenever the camera is active [, but] sometimes only in video mode. It is not clear whetherthese indicators can be circumvented when webcams are surreptitiously activated without the user’s knowledge or intent, via spyware.”

We have recently learned that the problem is far worse than that.  We know that from a report by Morgan Marquis-Boire that was published by The Citizen Lab (University of Toronto, Munk School of Global Affairs), as summarized by two recent articles in the Washington Post: How your cat video addiction could be used to hack you, by Andrea Peterson and Barton Gellman, and U.S. firm helped the spyware industry build a potent digital weapon for sale overseas, by Barton Gellman.  Both articles contain important revelations that are not discussed in this blog post, and are well worth reading.  The second article even provides a link for downloading Marquis-Boire’s report.

The report and the articles describe how watching a YouTube video,or visiting just about any web site, or updating a Flash player or Java, can result in malware being surreptitiously installed on your computer, without the web site cooperating or even knowing that it was infectious.

This has become another route by which hackers can install in your computer malware for turning on your webcam, against your will and without your knowledge.

The present blog post will concentrate on ways to prevent being viewed when you think that your webcam is off, but has secretly been turned on.  As discussed below, defences against being overheard are fewer than defenses against being seen.

The countermeasures described here are fairly obvious, and may be well known.  But the obvious is often what most needs to be repeated.  (That is why there are sermons and other pep talks.)

The history of breached defenses against hacking suggests that there is probably no way to ensure that any defense based on software or on electronics cannot be overcome.  So the safest defenses are physical blocks that only you can control and inspect.  These blocks are all free or inexpensive, and are very simple.

If your webcam can readily be disconnected, by far the best countermeasure would be leave the webcam physically disconnected from the computer except when you want the webcam to be activated.  That would prevent capture of your audio as well as of your video, unless you are using a voice-operated computer or a headset with a microphone, which would provide alternate routes for audio signals to enter your computer.

If it is cumbersome to disconnect and reconnect your webcam, it may be possible to hang a piece of paper or cardboard or cloth over the webcam’s optical aperture.  The webcams audio transmissions would continue, however.

If the placement of the webcam makes it difficult to loosely drape anything over its optical aperture, then it should still be possible to block the aperture with an opaque removable adhesive tape: transparent or semi-transparent tape that hosts a strategically-placed piece of paper, or a small adhesive bandage (either a strip or a disk), or a removable adhesive sticker such as those that children play with, or such as the stickers that are used to temporarily mark luggage or other items.  Of course, you’d want to be sure that the adhesive never touches any optically coated lens or screen.  Again, these methods would not block the audio.

The caption on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webcam says "Webcams typically include a lens (shown at top), an image sensor (shown at bottom), and supporting circuitry." "Sweex USB webcam PCB with without lens close up" by Original uploader was Mike1024 at en.wikipedia - Originally from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sweex_USB_webcam_PCB_with_without_lens_close_up.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sweex_USB_webcam_PCB_with_without_lens_close_up.jpg"

The caption on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webcam says “Webcams typically include a lens (shown at top), an image sensor (shown at bottom), and supporting circuitry.” “Sweex USB webcam PCB with without lens close up” by Original uploader was Mike1024 at en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sweex_USB_webcam_PCB_with_without_lens_close_up.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sweex_USB_webcam_PCB_with_without_lens_close_up.jpg”

It is a shame that to protect themselves against criminals and intrusive governments, everyone now has to take precautions that formerly were needed only by dissidents in countries run by repressive governments.

One of several versions of the painting "The Scream" (title: Der Schrei der Natur, 'The Scream of Nature') . The National Gallery, Oslo, Norway. (This is the caption in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scream .)  "The Scream" by Edvard Munch (1863–1944) - WebMuseum at ibiblioPage: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/munch/Image URL: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/munch/munch.scream.jpg. Via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Scream.jpg#mediaviewer/File:The_Scream.jpg

One of several versions of the painting “The Scream” (title: Der Schrei der Natur, ‘The Scream of Nature’) . The National Gallery, Oslo, Norway. (This is the caption in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scream .) “The Scream” by Edvard Munch (1863–1944) – WebMuseum at ibiblioPage: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/munch/Image URL: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/munch/munch.scream.jpg. Via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Scream.jpg#mediaviewer/File:The_Scream.jpg

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Who Owns a Found Thing?

August 4, 2014 at 9:28 pm | Posted in Fairness | 4 Comments
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 "Clouds over the Atlantic Ocean" by Tiago Fioreze

“Clouds over the Atlantic Ocean” by Tiago Fioreze

Breathe in.  Now breathe out.

That air you just breathed – you did not create it.  You just found it where you needed it, and used it.

"Cuesta del Obispo en la Provincia de Salta - Argentina" by fede.cerutti

“Cuesta del Obispo en la Provincia de Salta – Argentina” by fede.cerutti

The land on which you stand is part of a land mass that you did not create.  You just found it where you needed it, and are using it.

The same is true of the ocean which floats your boat, and of the atmosphere that waters your crops and provides the water you drink and wash with and cook with, and whose fluid supports your aircraft.

"West Texas Pumpjack" by Eric Kounce TexasRaiser - Located south of Midland, Texas.

“West Texas Pumpjack” by Eric Kounce TexasRaiser – Located south of Midland, Texas.

Oil extraction in the ocean: "Devils tower 2004" by VaderSS .

Oil extraction in the ocean: “Devils tower 2004″ by VaderSS .

"Coal mine Wyoming" by Unknown

“Coal mine Wyoming” by Unknown

The same is true of any oil or coal or gas or metal or metal ore from the ground or the ocean.

The same is true of the planet Earth, with its temperate temperature, and its protective atmosphere and magnetic field, and of the Moon, which tidally helps to stabilize the Earth’s spin axis, and the Sun, whose light illuminates and warms the Earth.

Glass beakers for chemistry.

Glass beakers for chemistry.

Surface-mounted electronics: "Arduino ftdi chip-1" by DustyDingo.

Surface-mounted electronics: “Arduino ftdi chip-1″ by DustyDingo.

The atoms and molecules in all those things, you did not create them.  You found them, or at most you modified them from atoms and molecules that you found, using energy that you found, via physical processes that obey rules that were already there, and that you merely used.

The same is true of any life form that we catch or grow, to eat or to use in other ways.  It is true even of life forms that we have varied by breeding, or that we have genetically modifed directly.

Who owns them?  Whose property are they, and by what right?

They are not in any essential way the property of any individual, family, business, collective, class, nation, society, or species.

But it is sometimes convenient to treat them as if they were.  Doing so reduces conflict, except when it instigates conflict.

Eastern Hemisphere, Lambert Azimuthal projection, by Sean Baker.

Eastern Hemisphere, Lambert Azimuthal projection, by Sean Baker.

Western Hemisphere, Lambert Azimuthal projection, by Sean Baker.

Western Hemisphere, Lambert Azimuthal projection, by Sean Baker.

Here are some examples:

– Repeatedly, groups of people from Africa migrated to Europe and Asia, settling those formerly unpeopled areas.

– Groups of people from Asia then migrated to the Western Hemisphere, Australia and New Zealand, settling those formerly unpeopled areas.

– Groups of people from Europe migrated to the western Hemisphere, settling in those already-peopled areas, and not gently.

– Due to the never-ending reverberation of past religious competition, large numbers of Jews in Europe (including Central and Eastern Europe) finally gave up on those areas, where their ancestors had dwelled for millenia, and migrated to the already-peopled Middle East.  They were joined by co-religionists from elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa who had there been harassed by the persistent reverberations of past religious competition in those locales.  The resulting turbulence has not yet dissipated.

– The Sunnis and the Shiites, the persecution of the Rohingya in Burma – the list goes on and on.

– Putin’s grabbing of Crimea, using arguments like those that the Nazi’s used to justify their seizure of Sudetenland, and its attempts to peel off Eastern Ukraine.

Caption in Wikipedia: "A Sudeten German Voluntary Force unit in 1938."

Caption in Wikipedia: “A Sudeten German Voluntary Force unit in 1938.”

Enough examples!

Now some background and some conclusions.

"Henry George" by Unknown.

“Henry George” by Unknown.

Readers who are familiar with the work of Henry George (1839-1897) will recognize some of his ideas in the present blog posting.  To quote Wikipedia, Henry George argued that “people should own what they create, but that everything found in nature, most importantly the value of land, belongs equally to all humanity.”

The views expressed in the present blog post are clearly a variant of those views.  But there are at least three differences:

(1) The present blog post implies that for tangible objects, ‘creating’ is merely ‘clever re-arranging’.  So only limited ownership should be conferred by the ‘creating’ of tangible objects.  That is said with full respect for the ingenuity, resourcefulness, value-added, and the hard work required.  In fact, those contributions are what justify the limited ownership.  In the creation of intangible works – new concepts, new ways of working, new chains of reasoning, and art of all types – a larger part of the result is truly created, justifying a larger degree of ownership, but still a limited one.

(2) The present blog post implies that to ascribe ownership to all of humanity would appropriate to our species what intrinsically belongs equally to all species, both terrestrial and extraterrestrial.  The same idea is often expressed by saying that we are just the stewards of spaceship Earth.

(3) Apart from the limited ownership that is justified by the ‘creation’ of tangible objects, and the greater degree of ownership that is justified by the creation of intangible works, the present blog argues that ownership is a legal fiction created for social convenience, rather than being intrinsic and fundamental.  But once ownership has become established as a convenient fiction, morality and justice require that it thereafter be ascribed fairly.

 

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Humane Executions

July 29, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Posted in Brain and mind, Crime and punishment, Fairness, Judicial Misjudgment, Terrorism | 1 Comment
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A woodcut showing a rabid dog in the Middle Ages. "Middle Ages rabid dog" by Unknown - Scanned from Dobson, Mary J. (2008) Disease, Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Quercus, p. 157 ISBN: 1-84724-399-1.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Middle_Ages_rabid_dog.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Middle_Ages_rabid_dog.jpg

A woodcut showing a rabid dog in the Middle Ages. “Middle Ages rabid dog” by Unknown – Scanned from Dobson, Mary J. (2008) Disease, Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Quercus, p. 157 ISBN: 1-84724-399-1.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Middle_Ages_rabid_dog.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Middle_Ages_rabid_dog.jpg

 

Execution by lethal chemical cocktails has recently become more difficult.  Some of the makers of the required chemicals refuse to sell them for that purpose.  The remaining makers desire anonymity, to avoid becoming the target of protests.  Worse, some of the recent chemical executions have been botched, and seem to have produced drawn-out painful deaths.

All of these problems could be eliminated by returning to an older technique: death by bullet.

But the shooting should not be performed by a firing squad.  Too many things can go wrong with a firing squad.

Instead, use a device that softly but firmly holds fixed the head and chest of the condemned.  A commercially available cervical collar might be one part of the device.  The condemned should be lying horizontally, face up, unable to move, on a special table having a soft surface.

The execution would be carried out by one or more gunshots from behind the head.

The gun could be fired by either a person or a computer.  Computer-controlled firing would be less subject to mistakes.  Sensors viewing the vicinity of the condemned could provide signals to the the computer so that the gun could fire only when no other person was in the line of fire.

Note: The general design described above is hereby released into the public domain by thepoliblog.WordPress.com.  It is not patentable.

That covers the how.  What about the why?

As long as the death penalty is imposed fairly, its morality is clear.  We kill mad dogs, attacking wild animals, and armed enemy soldiers.  We kill terrorists.  We kill madmen and criminals who try to kill the police, and madmen who attack the public.  We kill cancers.  No matter how morally advanced we become, we will always regard such killing as justified.

But can the death penalty be imposed fairly?

Some claim that the death penalty can never be imposed fairly on an individual who is now under our control.  Why not treat such a person as a prisoner of war?  Why not restrain them instead of killing them?  Why not try to rehabilitate them?  These are difficult questions which I hope to address in a later posting.  But for the present, recall that we do not use these alternatives for mad dogs.  Recall that the intrinsic dignity of human beings may be a too-sweeping and vaguely founded concept, and likewise for the concept of free will.  And recall that many innocents have been killed by seemingly reformed but unreformed parolees: different person’s brains are wired differently.

On these matters I have to agree with Charles Lane, and have to disagree with Eugene Robinson, who is usually one of the most insightful analyzers of public issues, and with the Editors of the Washington Post.

 

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It Was Legal to Kill al-Awlaki

June 27, 2014 at 7:36 pm | Posted in Crime and punishment, Enemies of Freedom, Terrorism | Leave a comment
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Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen October 2008, a lightened version (by Greg A L) of a photo taken by Muhammad ud-Deen.

Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen October 2008, a lightened version (by Greg A L) of a photo taken by Muhammad ud-Deen.

On September 30, 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a Hellfire missile fired by the US government, even though al-Awlaki was nominally a U.S. citizen at the time.  (See here.)

Absurdly, the legality of this act is controversial in the most idealogically blinkered circles.

Think back to the Civil War in the U.S. If it was legal for Union soldiers to shoot Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, then it was legal for the US Government to kill al-Awlaki.

Wikipedia states that ‘The “targeted killing” of an American citizen was unprecedented.’ It is impossible to believe that during the Civil War soldiers were not particularly enouraged to kill named generals and high-ranking officers. So there are actually many precedents.

Killing al-Awlaki was prudent and just, as well as legal.

 

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