Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Funny Bitter Bush Jokes

McSweeneys has a fabulous article by Matt Alexander called, ALTHOUGH I LIKE A GOOD GEORGE W. BUSH JOKE AS MUCH AS THE NEXT GUY, SOME OF THEM SEEM GRATUITOUS AND MEAN-SPIRITED. Some of the highlights:

A doctor, a lawyer, and an accountant all die and go to heaven on the same day. When they get to the Pearly Gates, they are greeted by St. Peter. St. Peter says, "Scott McClellan is a lying sack of shit and I'd tell him so myself if he weren't going straight to hell when he dies."

Did you hear that Bill Clinton hired a new intern? It turns out that his old intern had to go home and spend time with her family after her brother was killed in Iraq.


1. Drop Acid 2. Jump Out the Window

The title refers to a famous urban legend suggesting that many hippie kids took LSD and jumped out of windows, thinking they could fly. In fact, psychedelic historians are forever pointing out that there's only one documented case in which LSD and window-jumping are linked, that of U.S. Army/CIA germ warfare researcher Frank Olsen, who was famously dosed by the evil Sidney Gottlieb in 1953, went psychotic, and jumped out of a hotel window to his death a few weeks later.

Now it turns out even this story might have been a cover for a more ominous truth underneath. In his new book A Voice for the Dead: A Forensic Investigator's Pursuit of the Truth in the Grave, George Washington University Law and Forensic Science Professor James Starrs (who's best known for his new autopsy on Jesse James) devotes an eye-opening chapter to the Olsen case. Working with Olsen's son Eric, Starrs and a distinguished team of forensic specialists exhumed Olsen's body, conducted a fresh autopsy, and concluded that Olsen received a blow to the head before he "jumped" out the window. Based on this and other new research, Starrs suggests the CIA had Olsen murdered when they discovered he was about to resign (and possibly go public with his dirty knowledge) following a suddden flowering of conscience.

The full text of Starr's chapter on the Olsen investigation is available here, as part of the Olsen family's Frank Olsen Legacy Project, a website devoted to the circumstances and investigation surrounding Olsen's life and death. Starr's conclusion merits repeating:

From my view and that of the clear majority of my team members, with all the other investigative details, as well as what we found scientifically, Dr. Olson's death was not a suicide. The probabilities, taken together, strongly and relentlessly suggest that it was a homicide.


I'm sure it's a bit boring to read my constant hat-tipping to BoingBoing, but they keep delivering the goods. They first covered the venal Sidney Gottlieb here in an excerpt from editor Mark Frauenfelder's new book THE WORLD'S WORST: A Guide to the Most Disgusting, Hideous, Inept and Dangerous, People, Places and Things on Earth (Gottlieb took the "Maddest Mad Scientist" nod). After several reader comments (featuring more good links), Frauenfelder followed up with this story from another reader, plus comments with even more links.

An intriguing ancillary thread for magicians is the weaving in and out presence of John Mullholland, New York magi and eventual accumulator of the astoundingly large Mullholland Collection of magic books and memorabilia (formerly curated by Ricky Jay, now owned -- at a cost of $2.2 million -- by David Copperfield). Apparently, Mullholland worked for the CIA, training them in secret methods of delivering coded messages and surreptitious poisons, as well as other black arts. He was contracted by the CIA to write a book on the subject, though it's not clear whether he actually ever wrote the book. If he did, it remains classified to this day.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Wow, a mention in Slate!

I just discovered (by accident) that Bidisha Banerjee mentioned my recent post on the Pear research in his June 20th blog roundup in Slate. I did a Google "I'm Feeling Lucky" search for PeaceLove's Musings and Banerjee's column came up. Scroll down past the Judicial appointments discussion for the brief mention.

Slate is owned by Microsoft and is one of the best-known news sites on the web. How exciting -- for me, at least!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Art of Science

Princeton has announced the winners of the First Annual* Art of Science Competition. From the site:

This spring we asked the Princeton University community to submit imagery produced in the course of research or incorporating tools and concepts from science....

The resulting assembly of images presents a fascinating and beautiful cross section of the arts and sciences at Princeton. It celebrates the aesthetics of research and the ways in which science and art inform each other.

The image above didn't win, but it's my personal favorite (probably due to my longstanding love of Kandinsky and the Constructivists). It's called Dynamic Asset Allocation in Freight Transportation, and it's modeled from a PhD dissertation relating to "stochastic, integer multicommodity flow problems" (there'll be a quiz on this later). Fallopian (below), which depicts its namesake as seen from a uterus, is also quite stunning.

Check out the whole gallery here.


* I had an English teacher in high school who hated the term "First Annual." "How can the first of anything be 'annual?'" she would ask. You can PLAN for it to be annual, but it won't be 'annual' until at least the second time it happens." Well, I guess Princeton disagrees with her.

Was I misinformed, all those years ago?

(Thanks to BoingBoing for the link.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Fleep is an amazing existential journey in 42 panels. Creator Jason Shiga says:

[Fleep] is about a man who wakes up in a telephone booth which has been mysteriously selaed in an envelope of concrete. Using only the contents of his pockets (two pens, a paperback novel, three coins and 20 ft of unwaxed dental floss) our hero must fashion and execute an escape plan before he runs out of oxygen.

The results are spare and gripping. Unfortunately, Shiga seems to have dropped off the map; the most recent news I could find on him is on his website from September, 2003.


Tip O' the Hat to Magic Circle Jerk for the pointer.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

From Wired News: Mind May Affect Machines

Well, it sure is nice to see coverage of parapsychology (psi) research showing up in a fairly mainstream source like Wired News!

This article reports on research at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research program (Pear) purporting to show that our state of mind can have subtle but significant effects on machines. Longtime readers (over two months!) will recall that early on I posted a back and forth debate on the merits of parapsychology research (see here, and then, if you're still interested, here, here, here, here, and here). The gist of the argument against psi research seems to be that 1. it does not follow the standard rule of being replicable in a variety of settings and conditions, and 2. the results make no sense according to current scientific knowledge and therefore must be wrong.

The Wired article pretty much avoids addressing the second point, but it does a good job illustrating the controversy at the heart of the first, quoting skeptics who tried and failed to replicate the experiments as well as discussing meta-analyses done over the years that have found the effects to be real, significant, and replicable. And they quote Dean Radin, who I cited in my previous posts:

Radin, who is not affiliated with Pear, dismisses critics who say the group isn't practicing solid science.

"This field has received far more scrutiny and criticism than many other ordinary fields," Radin said. "The people who do this kind of research are well aware that their research has to be done better. The Pear lab has taken the best principles of rigorous science and applied it to extremely difficult questions and come up with some pretty interesting answers."

No new ground is covered here, but it's nice to see a balanced view showing up someplace where intelligent, informed people can actually have a chance to consider both sides of the issue and draw their own conclusions. Even if your own conclusion is that there's not enough information to draw a definitive conclusion, this is a big improvement over the credulous paranormal coverage found in tabloid television or the biased anti-psi slant that generally permeates the mainstream media.

I predict that a revolution in how we perceive the interaction of consciousness and the "material world" will happen within our lifetimes. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Houdini Speaks! - UPDATED

Courtesy of the massive Internet Archives ("Universal Access to Human Knowledge"), here's a 1914 Edison Wax Cylinder of Houdini pitching his Water Torture Cell. It's a rather stilted delivery, but at least you get to hear his voice.

While we're on the subject, if you have an extra $50,000+ you might want to consider putting in a bid for the Milk Can poster below. The sellers claim it's one of only three extant original copies of the 1908 classic. Drool!

UPDATE: I was outbid. My high bid was $29.95 and the poster sold for $68,404. Damn. So close...

Monday, July 11, 2005

Incredible Optical Illusions - UPDATED

Check out the incredible optical illusion at left. It's one of those checkerboards in which two different squares, in this case A and B, turn out to be exactly the same shade of grey. (For a full explanation and proof, check here.) Normally, when I see these types of illusions I can kind of squint and see that they're actually the same. Not so with this one; I actually had to put Post-It's on my computer to convince myself! (see below)

Incidentally, if you're into optical illusions, the mother of all optical illusion pages is Akiyoshi's Illusion Pages. Akiyoshi Kitaoka is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, and he specializes in the study and design of trippy "visual illusions" like the one below. Some of these are absolutely mind-blowing; you gotta' love a page with this serious warning at the outset:

Caution: This page contains some works of "anomalous motion illusion", which might make sensitive observers dizzy or sick. Should you feel dizzy, you had better leave this page immediately.

Tip O' the Hat (TOTH) to blogger.com for adding image capability right into their package. The Checkerboard Illusion has been around for a while, but I was recently reminded of it and called to really examine it by a report on Rocketboom, a fantastic daily 3-minute news roundup featuring the adorable Amanda Congdon. Rocketboom is pretty much what we all wish the daily news shows could be: incisive, sharp, and witty.

UPDATE: I forgot to also mention Caltech Professor Al Seckel's homepage, which contains much info about optical illusions including a whole section on his extraordinary book, Masters of Deception: Escher, DalĂ­ & the Artists of Optical Illusion. Also check out the vast gallery at eyetricks. Lots to peruse here!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Brief Film Review - Code 46

Code 46 is a pretty spectacular film by Michael Winterbottom starring Tim Robbins as an investigator in the near-future (or alternative present) who uses "empathy" (essentially a form of high-tech mindreading) to figure out who has been smuggling forged identity chips out to the lower classes in a desert city called "Shanghai." He meets and falls for Samantha Morton (genius star of Morvern Callar and Minority Report), and finds himself covering for her when he determines that she's the culprit.

Code 46 manages on a very low budget the extraordinary task of creating a desolate futuristic world out of the present. It's most obvious stylistic antecedent is Goddard's Alphaville, in which modern Paris stands in for the city of the future. It's a weird, sad film about lonely alienated people, blending a kind of THX 1138 sterility with a postmodern glass and steel iciness in an ozone-hole world.

I used the term "spectacular" because it's the word that came to me most strongly when the film was over. The film isn't spectacular in the "spectacle" sense; in fact it's a rather low-key and detatched work. What's spectacular, to me, is Winterbottom and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce's extraordinary control over tone and rhythm. Code 46 is spectacular in the manner of a Bresson film or a De Chirico painting.

Director Winterbottom is on my hero list for the ascerbically jaunty 24 Hour Party People, a free-wheeling film about the rise of Manchester's legendary Factory Records which, in it's heyday, produced killer acts like Joy Division and Happy Mondays. 24 Hour Party People was also written by Boyce, and it's astonishing to see two such 180-degree opposite works come from the same creative minds. I'd definitely put Winterbottom on my list of directors to watch, and I look forward to checking out some of his earlier collaborations with Boyce, like Welcome to Sarajevo and The Claim.

Cool Hamburger Trick

Here's a really neat video of Japanese magician Cyril Takayama Blaine-ing a bunch of spectators on the street. Now, if only he can turn hamburgers into veggie burgers...

Shout out to Pagliacci for the link and further info. If you're a magic fan, this is a good one to add to your Bloglines feeds.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Cultured Meat?

I'm an ethical vegetarian, so I was intrigued by this story at We Make Money Not Art about the potential to produce meat in the lab.

Two new techniques of tissue engineering may one day lead to large scale production of lab grown meat that tastes like beef, poultry, pork, lamb or fish and has the texture of meat...

I'm not a fan of bioengineered food; the potential for unknown ramifications from both the use of these new "frankenfoods" and the elimination of Mother Nature's own natural whole foods is incalculable -- and scary as hell. On the other hand, I'm even less fond of the barbaric meat industry, with its pollution, waste, and lifelong torture and summary execution of billions of cows, sheep, chickens, and pigs. (KFC alone slaughters over 850 million chickens per year.)

Frankly, I'd prefer if the whole world went vegetarian, but this at least offers hope to reduce the total cruelty in the world. Manufacturing meat would also end the rampant overuse of antibiotics (over 70% of the antibiotics in use go to farm animals).

All in all, since I'm not going to eat it anyway, I'd opt for the Frankenmeats.